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World of Darkness Berlin and Enlightenment in Blood

How do I even start this article? Fair warning: it will be long (TL;DR - best larp experience of my life). It will be emotional. Sometimes rambling, or jumping from one subject to another. It will include both what took part on the con, before it, after it, and some of my own thoughts and reflections on it. And it will not include a lot of photos of the larp itself, because of the photo policy I signed.

Last weekend I took a part in World of Darkness Berlin convention - first of its' type in Europe. Unfortunately, it was in the same time slot as SFeraKon in Zagreb, but when you have an opportunity such as this - well, you don't miss it. The convention, most of it taking place in Mercure hotel MOA Berlin (with several events in other venues), had covered almost every possible expression of World of Darkness, it's licensees and IPs - tabletop role-play, larps, V:TES collectible card game, and more.

Let's be frank - if you're reading my blog, you're probably in for the larp content. If you know a few things about me, you can probably guess this was the main thing for me as well. The biggest event was Enlightenment in Blood - a pervasive larp which I'll write about in detail later in this article. There were also two runs of End of the Line - after the first run in Helsinki and second in New Orleans. Since talking to the people who've been on it, I've realized I made a horrible mistake - I should have taken an extra day or two off to visit one of the runs. I've been banging my head into the wall ever since, as it really sounded like something I wanted to be on. Sarah Lynne Bowman wrote an article on first EotL run in Helsinki over a year ago, so you can see what the larp is about - from people who've been on previous runs, I've heard said that Berlin runs were bigger on safety/calibration mechanics, and in a bigger location - for all the good and bad it implies.

Besides these larps - written by Participation|Design|Agency and charged in addition to the convention ticket - there were others too, such as Dance me to the End of Love, a 25-player by Ben Haedrich, a Berlin native. Unfortunately, it was already full when I bought my convention ticket, but I heard the run went great. There was also For One Night, a 10-player larp by Shoshanna Kessock, who arrived from New Jersey. Unfortunately, it was also full when I bought my convention ticket, and I heard it was canceled due to players not showing up, as it was scheduled against Dance me to the End of Love and V5 playtest. There was Dancing with the Clans, a fun and silly larp/dance-off which was going on at all times, but I just didn't have enough time to join. There was also a variety of freeform scenarios which could be played, and some of theme were very larpish.

And the scheduling was one of the problems with the convention. There was just so many awesome and interesting stuff to do at the same time. Though, admittedly, it's a good problem to have compared to the alternative. I missed out on so much amazing stuff, because I was somewhere else doing other amazing stuff, or preparing for it. I missed the documentary screenings. I missed on the freeforms and Dancing with the Clans. I didn't find time to learn V:TES. However, there were a lot of famous people there - from World of Darkness scene, from Nordic larp scene, or both. I felt they were very approachable, friendly and interested in stuff we've been doing in Croatia.

Culture shock: Nordic and German people have a very different understanding of time and scheduling than us Croats, on conventions and larps. When something starts at 8, it will start at 8 sharp and the entire audience will already be there. Unlike in Croatia, where "starts at 8" would usually mean "start gathering at 8", or "8 is when the organizer is finishing his dinner and considers starting his trip to the event, unless he has something better to do". I'm not sure how to deal with this precision, but I like it.

Answering some important questions

On Friday, I got just in time for the awesome White Wolf keynote, which was recorded so I'm pretty sure it will pop up somewhere on the internet soon-ish. It really made me enthusiastic about the future of this IP and all the cool stuff coming soon. This was immediately followed by a drama/collaboration workshop by Ysadora Farkas, and I got to the EiB briefing after that (which was provided 3 times during the day). My EiB group - the Church of Caine - had a meeting soon after. And then it was time to dress up and go larping.

Enlightenment in Blood had almost 250 participants, including NPCs, and had a runtime of 4 hours and 45 minutes in total. Yet the reach and extent of the larp went far beyond that. Character creation was supposed to open on my birthday in March, but it was late and opened up on April 10th, just barely over a month before larp.

The system used for character creation was the Larpweaver software, which premiered with this larp. The software was developed by US-based Incognita Ltd., and from the user side it provided quite an interesting and very automated compromise between pre-generated and self-created characters. It was a form with several steps - first you needed to choose a primary group. Major factions in larp all had several primary groups, but some of the primary groups were the "masquerade" groups which included a lot of different character types, mortal and supernatural-alike. I picked up "Blood Gardeners", a subgroup of the Church of Caine based on recruitment and tending new vampires. Church was mainly an Anarch sub-faction, and one of the new things in this larp. Yet the best name award probably goes to "Trash Fuckers", a Bone Gnawer group.

Second step was choosing a character seed - a brief background idea to serve as a starting point for all characters. There were several named canon characters which one could choose - I picked up one such character, Joseph Fischer. That character even got his own V:TES card.

Third step was choosing a creature type. As I was playing a canon character, I was limited only to my choice of playing a vampire - a Gangrel. At the fourth step, we would choose our powers, two of them. Much of the lingo from regular WoD games was removed and made accessible for new players, and the powers were written in the same way they were invoked. From the list available, I chose "You really really want to chill completely out" and "You really really want to let the monster inside you go", sort of open-ended versions of Animalism 3 and 5 powers from regular systems. The "really really" part was a keyword - the mechanic required you to look the victim in the eyes and touch the player or their clothes, and say your line. It was up to the victim to play it out as they see fit, for up to 10 minutes. We didn't have the rules yet while we were creating the characters (got them on April 27th), but despite some specific questions it was simple to understand how that would work on larp.

After that, we chose our worldview - a religion, philosophy or something else. I picked up the Church of Caine. And we got to choose a secondary group - I picked up the Loser's Club, which was basically this larp's version of the Fight Club (and everyone called it the Fight Club at a larp), and a masquerade group.

The second group of questions were personality questions - they were a bit more opaque than the first group, because it was not clear what they would mean to me. Why am I angry at the Camarilla? Because of Camarilla pettiness, was my choice. What was my Embrace like? Distant, as it sounds fitting with the character seed I got. I also picked up love concrete motivation (need to fall in love and do something crazy in order to live again), personality conflict control (freedom/independence vs sense of belonging conflict), and exploring the philosophical limits of existence (and death).

Last step was to enter a name - but as I picked a canon character, I needed to enter their name. This created my final character sheet, and all of my choices were expanded upon in the final version - and many sections had some secret info, or provided motivation and goals. Most of them also had some examples and advice on playing that. Some of them were quite conflicting, and resolving them in one way or another (or ignoring them completely) was up to us. The descriptions were edgier than usual Vampire descriptions, with advice such as "Often it feels like nothing better than being a junkie. Your fix is blood and you need to get it, however you can." and "Drink blood. It's the best. Every vampire is a connoisseur of blood, and curiosity is a good reason to take a bite. You hear a rumor that someone is particularly tasty, give it a go" which would eventually come to influence the way we played - more wild, careless and instinctual than in typical Vampire larps. Info on larpweaver would get updates as the time progressed - with scenes, info and group connections added to it.

There was one issue with this process - there were a lot of groups, and the number of available spots (and character seeds) in them was limited. There were a lot of players who complained they couldn't get the characters they wanted - some of them were the people who started the sign-up process 15 minutes after it opened. Some people already made their picks, as they were involved in testing the system. I camped in front of my PC on the sign-up evening, started immediately when they opened, and got the character I wanted.

After this was done, we got in some Facebook groups - there were 60 of these groups, for all the groups and choices we made in the first question group. I got into groups for Vampires, Anarchs, Gangrel, Church of Caine, Blood Gardeners, Loser's Club, and last but not the least - Mortals and those pretending to be mortals. There were some issues with the groups, mostly because of Facebook algorithms figuring out something wonky was going on with the same people creating lots of groups at once. In these groups, we would seek other characters with whom our characters would connect, and build our shared stories. There was no specific way to do that, we'd just take notes (or not) in a whatever way. And some group participants made amazing materials for the larp itself.

Through my character's relationship with other characters, we decided our common stories together. Of course, there were all the regular group affiliations and membership in them - but these ended up deeply detailed, deeply personal, often across group lines. There was no organizer involvement in our stories, no checking them out - we were given the trust and responsibility to make our own stories, but in the end our stories were not just our own - they were built with other people, a collaborative effort. I ended up with my character connected to 18 other characters beyond the basic level of group membership - the nature of these relationships spanning from a single sentence to several pages of text.

And it was these relationships which eventually fleshed out the most detailed and complex character I ever ran. I built my character around bloodshed, an attempt of redemption and return to mortal ideals which kept failing, dysfunctional love relationships which ended badly, and power, pain, curiosity, and pushing on his own physical and mental limitations in order to find his own way. Knowing a few things about Nordic larp, I knew what I wanted to play, and perhaps how - but I was not prepared for what awaited me. But more on that later. Suffice it to say, I wanted to play a character on the edge, trying to find its' own way, meaning and purpose in the night of revolution - and if he could drink some Camarilla blood, or form his own Sabbat pack, even better. The Church would probably end up betrayed, as several of my character's chosen motivations pulled in that direction.

And it was OK to go for that. Some people wanted a more prominent spot in the revolution. Some people just wanted to party hard. With the number of participants there, all of it and more were possible. And due to the nature of collaborative character building we did, most features of my character were someone else's history as well. All of the elements, all of the characters intertwined in very complex ways - in case this larp gets rerun, the person who gets to play Joseph next time will probably build a very different character. There are just so many variables to play with.

A few days before the larp started, Undernet launched. It's an in-character social network based on Kin platform, the same one which runs Czochabook on College of Wizardry larps. It worked like a combination of facebook and twitter, since apart from some groups and PMs most of the stuff there was public, for more info sharing and drama. It was awesome, as it gave us our first in-character interactions. But I felt it was perhaps a bit too late - as some people already started their trip to the convention, perhaps releasing it a few days earlier would have made its impact bigger.

The briefing before the larp by Johanna Koljonen drilled some safety, calibration and consent mechanics in us, and we went once again through most important stuff and logistics. No main characters, no main plot, no planned end battles - each one of us is a main character, and we run this together. Taking care of other players. Sharing your secrets. And we got told what would (in general) happen in the first half hour of the larp. After that, we would be on our own. The organizers wouldn't know what would happen next either.

After the briefing, we signed the photo policy and got our player pack - an armband, which would allow us to get into (some) private locations for this larp, a map of locations (12 play locations, plus GM headquarters), all in the same district, and a short reminder and ritual which we were to perform at the start of the larp. Our location would be at one of the protestant churches - not the main hall, but one of the smaller ones which still looked great - especially since I was wearing red-tinted glasses.

I should note a few things about rituals here. In most local larps, they're basically cool scenes you perform to achieve some goal, which take some time and are vulnerable to disruption. In German fantasy larps they're mostly the same, although typically longer and look better. But here, rituals were something else - there were both out-of-character rituals and in-character rituals, which were great moment helping players (and, through bleed-in, characters as well) to get into a certain focus, mindset etc., to direct focus and emotions of all the participants towards a certain goal. They were deep and exhilarating experiences.

And after reading the starting ritual, the larp started with our in-character ritual, taking some 25-ish minutes. It was led by Martin Ericsson, who played one of our Church Shepherds (members of the leadership). He gave a speech, and called out for confessions, which we gave - and I spilled my biggest secrets in the first moments of the larp. He asked us how the Camarilla wronged us, and drove our emotions into fervor when we decided we would avenge these wrongs sevenfold. And to this frenzied mass of vampires, his character asked to give himself in a sacrament to Caine, as an offering - to take our sins to him to be washed away. We fell upon him, feasting on his blood and his gift of love, while he screamed his last words in fear and agony... you can see how twisted this larp started.

Red Liberation flyer
And then chaos started. We got the news. Sheriff is dead. Camarilla is coming. Red Liberation is coming. I met some of my connections, and used my powers for the first time to calm one of them down - Tori, my character's contact and on-and-off lover (currently off), a Tremere whom her current boyfriend Davey apparently wanted to kill. Davey was one of my "light" contacts, as we've known of each other as Gangrels, but never had much developed interaction. I ran down to face him and made a scene "you're fucking MY girlfriend and now you want to kill her?", but the scene de-escalated quickly, as he said he's not out for her, and as we changed the topic to killing the Camarilla I decided he's a rather cool guy, and we should kill some Camarilla together. (Edit: Correcting myself - Joseph actually got into a scene with his friend named Twitch, also from Red Lib - and then talked to Davey. Leaving the original text as is.)

One of my Church connections - Isaiah Palmer, played by Ben Haedrich, who recruited my character in the Church, found himself torpid and non-responsive, and I managed to rouse his Beast to wake him up.

My character's nemesis Peter Kleist entered the Church as well, and after several scenes we ended up drinking him publicly on stage despite protests by one of our Shepherds played by Shoshanna Kessock (he ended up torpid, as apart from NPCs character death was possible only in the last hour of play - indeed, it would suck for one's experience if they died quickly without chance to play much, on a larp which costs this much and which had so long prep). For me it was my first turning scene, and I decided I was out for blood. With some other Church members, I joined Davey and the big Anarch group - we'd go to a Camarilla bar Raumklang, to kill the Prince.

Walk to the Raumklang was quite long, about 20 minutes in the Friedrichshain district of Berlin. We spent our trip in-character and role-playing - an experience which was new to many players, although I was quite familiar with it, as it was one of the core experiences of Izgon and Week of Darkness I ran, as well as Astra larp I participated in. In this larp, it provided a good way to talk to someone for a while without distractions of the surrounding chaos. Another of my contacts, Aisha az-Zahra, whom Joseph recruited in Church started talking against it - but as my character was not so deep into Church, I didn't react badly when I heard that. There was also a guy from the Hope Foundation who tried to recruit me, but I wasn't really that much interested in it. Raumklang turned out emptier than we expected, and we took over the bar, and dealt with the in-character owner (played by Mark Rein-Hagen).

During the bar stay, I participated in a meditation and ritual led by another of my contacts, Numina (played by Sarah Lynne Bowman), reflecting and focusing inwards - this got my character rid of the bloodlust, and made him regret the heinous frenzied acts which he did. When she said I should forgive myself, I actually cried - a turning point for my character that evening.

The group proceeded to the Anarch bar Jägerhütte, in the RAW-Gelände squat area, which ended up to be my final destination, as it was also the location of the afterparty. I talked to Aisha and Mila Sunderland (another one of my connections, very important for my character's early life in Berlin in the story we co-wrote) about leaving the Church, to a Stirner Group guy, and to another guy I tried to recruit in the Church - only to catch Mila's surprised look, and my character realized he's doing things out of habit, not things he would really believe in anymore.

Jägerhütte was huge and populated. I got to meet Smiling Jack. And Matthew Webb's character Sin, who was running some flashy scripts on his laptop, which made it look like Hollywood-quality movie hacking. I also got to play on my Fight Club background, and I ended up in an impromptu grappling match with another character which was very fun. Almost ended up fighting some werewolves, but near the end one of them was very pissed and took off a few heads, so I wisely reconsidered getting into the grinder.

I had a great encounter with a Changeling called Myra - my character would get to drink some of her blood, and she'd get to hear my dreams. The blood and interaction left me thinking even further, and heavily influenced the way my character would continue.

Eventually, the decision was made - I made a pact with Aisha and Luise, another character from the Church. We'd go together, as a pack, and we would be Sabbat. We did the Vaulderie behind the bar, and our fate was decided. I texted one of my friends Emily to admit it openly (and nobody came to kill me). We ran off to recruit several more members into the pack. The Prince appeared, and was torn to pieces by the frenzied crowd. The Church of Caine offed Prince's torturer, but found themselves antagonizing the main Anarch group because of too much diablerie going on - and, just like Camarilla, they were left down to their last remnants. I was faced, and I stood publicly in the center of Jägerhütte, screaming "fuck the Church" to all the gathered Anarch from top of my lungs.

Our last recruit was a ghoul formerly from the Church whom I Embraced in the last 5 minutes of the larp. However, I didn't find out in time about her two werewolf protectors. On one hand, I claimed her for the clan Gangrel, and told them I freed her from the blood bond, and from the Church that would get her killed. I did the political thing, said that Werewolves and Gangrel are allies - yet I also openly admitted my vampirical status, and begged them for the taste of their own blood. Which I got. And I survived the encounter, somehow - they walked away.

Yet the true reason for these actions was not care, nor really the desire to increase the size of the pack. It was a play on my last, so far unused character trait - a distant embrace. And a straight, hateful middle finger to Joseph's sire.

With this, the alarm we all set for 1:00 rang, and the larp was done. There was a speech, and a short closing ritual similar to the opening one. And then we set drinking and sharing our war stories.

And everyone's play was so different. Down to fundamental levels. There were people partying, hacking, trying to steal money, openly involved in main combat stuff going on, doing political play, and so much more. My experience was my own - shared in part with some of my co-players - but everyone did their own story, their own thing, stuff which they found interesting.

To say that I had a blast would be seriously downplaying it. It was a life-changing experience. Reading about this style of play and experiencing it in person are two completely different things. I found myself completely hooked, and a jumble of emotions and thoughts. It forced me to re-think safety, larp in general, and many, many things I should have done better in the past to make myself and other people safer, as well as to make my larps safer - if you got hurt because of my activities, inactivities or wrong decisions, I'm truly sorry.

In a way, what helps me is remembering the words of Numina... oh fuck that was in-character. Why was everything there so meaningful to me out-of-character as well? OK, now I imagine a lot of you readers probably wondering which drugs did I take. And the experienced larpers of the Nordic tradition probably nodding and smiling.

Things will never be the same again for me. But the convention was not over yet.

On Saturday, I cleared my head a bit when I went on a short, fast tourist trip of Berlin's center with Thorsten from my group on ConQuest. I got back in time for VtM V5 playtest. I loved it - simple, dynamic, somewhat chaotic, and very much fun and fresh. Great new rules regarding blood and hunger. We had to return the documents, but something should get released publicly soon-ish.

The game we played was an aftermath of Enlightenment in Blood - one evening after, as we tried to rescue a character our characters were blood bound to. Scenario and characters were pre-written, but there was still a lot of reading to learn the system and prep for scenario quickly. I got to play a sassy Toreador called Bruno.

The playtest took a while, and when it was done it was time to grab some dinner and get to the con afterparty location. Which was brilliant. Great DJ, great atmosphere, great people, and it looked like something out of Bloodlines.

Sunday 10:00 was too early for most people to wake up, and I left Berlin strongly affected by my experience there. A week after the larp was over, I still get the post-con blues. Talking to my fellow co-players helps. Some of the projects we started together - like forum role-play - also help. And now, writing this article was another way for me to go over everything that happened, re-analyze it and cope with it better.

Fellow players, organizers, other visitors - thank you for everything. It was an event to remember. An event which changed everything for me.


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