Dreams of Darker Days (DDD) was a crossover LARP of Werewolf: the Apocalypse and Changeling: the Dreaming that ran from 2000-2001. It went for 13 monthly sessions (including two camping overnights) along a pre-planned “year and a day” storyline. We had four main GMs, and I was in charge of the Changeling characters and plots (plus any Corax, because I looooove Corax). It was the sister WoD LARP to Night’s Children, a Vampire/Wraith game (no crossover, we were just hosted by the same production company), and there was little GM crossover: most of the DDD staff played in NC and vice versa.

Game Background

We’re big fans around here of the story structure where the protagonists unwittingly break something in Act 1 and have to fix it by Act 3. So DDD was essentially a European Ignorance Cautionary Fable.

Sometime in the Middle Ages, when the Dreaming and the Umbra were both closer to the physical world, a greater phoenix entity with ties to both realms got itself Wyrm-corrupted, effectively becoming a greater Bane. It terrorized Europe for a while before getting driven off to the Americas. The native Garou and Fae managed to put it down eventually by pinning it under hundreds of Rock Giants and locking them into a binding ritual made by Uktena mystics. We call the spot where it’s trapped Stone Mountain. To keep the ritual and the living giants that made up the mountain fed, they linked the binding to a bunch of local sources of Gnosis and Glamour, the keystone of while was a powerful caern/freehold in what would become Atlanta.

Cut to 2000, when in the middle of all the late-era WoD metaplot, a collection of Changelings and Werewolves take over a long-ignored minor combo caern/freehold that everyone thinks has more potential than it’s currently expressing. They start tapping the energy from the site, using it to deal with all the usual WoD metaplot stuff (War in Concordia! Pentex! Fomorians waking up! Sabbat in Atlanta! Technocrats!).

Meanwhile, of course, they’re siphoning off the key energy used to keep the binding ritual working. The first clue of this is a weird “Iron Plague” that’s unmaking Changelings in the area (the loose ends of the ritual occasionally earthing and sucking a Changeling dry of Glamour to try to fuel itself). The next is the upswing in weirdness showing up in town (agents of the Wyrm being drawn to the near-waking Bane). The third was several characters randomly awakening as Rock Giants (that had broken off the main mass) and fire-themed Wyrm spirits appearing. Finally, prophecies and lore start falling out just in time for the characters to mount a frantic battle and ritual to refresh and reinforce the binding, sacrificing several of their own in the process of keeping an ancient evil from walking the world once more.

The Technique

One thing that our production company did that I don’t think was otherwise at all common was to treat long-running LARPs like one-shots, in that we’d pregen most of the characters. When you showed up at one of our games, you’d get asked what kind of character you wanted to play and we’d give you the closest character we had that hadn’t been cast yet. If we knew you were coming, we might write you something specific. You got a page or more of background, a character that started with higher-than-starting stats commensurate with the background (e.g., if you were a powerful Baron, you had the stats to back it up), and a list of goals, allies, and enemies. After that, you were on your own to develop the character further. Here are the Changelings as examples (all the ones that list experience spent at the bottom are customized by their players).

This practice probably started because most of us had been heavily involved in various convention LARPs where pregens were a necessity to run a game in a few hours or days, so it just seemed natural to continue the pregens in longer-running games.

The cool thing about it was that it allowed us to hit the ground running from session 1, and give new players rich connections even if they showed up later. There was no period of “Who are these people? What do I want? Why am I here?” Instead, you were pointed at several characters you’d know for good or ill and given a list of starter ambitions (which we knew were attainable and usually involved getting you to create drama with other player characters).

I don’t know how most WoD LARPs handle filling the power structure, but I assume it’s similar to most boffer LARPs I’ve played: the power structure starts out with NPCs until leaders have naturally emerged among the PCs and they gradually take over authority. This method allowed us to hand most of the authority roles to PCs on day 1 (and if they didn’t wind up having the charisma to stay in charge, we’d also handed several other players goals of “take power through whatever means necessary!”).

That latter aside was another key use for the technique: even though our games did tend to feature heavy plot and NPC antagonists, we were also able to seed deep conflict among the PCs rather than hoping it would emerge organically, and social PvP conflict is important when you’ve got a 10:1 or worse ratio of players to GMs at a normal session. We wound up giving the Shadow Court oathcircle and the Shadowlords pack to players we knew would have a great time being thorns in the sides of the more traditionally heroic PCs (mostly the GMs from our sister Vampire game).

The Drawbacks

Of course, the technique has several fairly large problems.

The first is just all the work involved. I obviously can only turn out a couple of posts for this blog a week, and every PC in the game had a background nearly the length of one of my normal entries in addition to a set of stats generated to match. Every two-page character with “Player: Uncast” on it hurts me a little: those were generally a thousand words that went completely to waste. The ones that only got used for one session because the player never came back may hurt a little bit more (even though we were pretty shameless about recasting roles… “Remember your packmate? Well he’s that guy now.”). I doubt it’s something I’d have had time for if I wasn’t a student at the time.

The second is that it demands much more GM attention to what players have available. It’s one thing to have a stable of starting-level PCs that don’t have anything they haven’t earned in game over several sessions, giving every GM time to remember and adapt. It’s another to have a player you’ve never seen before asking you for resources he claims he should have access to, but you weren’t the one who wrote the character (even though you’re almost 100% sure none of your other GMs are crazy enough to give an untested new player the Demolitions skill).

And the third is key to that last aside and probably the real reason we don’t do it anymore: it’s a policy that can lead to favoritism. When you’ve got a stack of plot-important characters, as a GM you’re more likely to hand those out to players that you know are going to stick around for several sessions and can stay alive (and possibly in charge). So you hand them out to your regulars and friends, and the untested new players get the PCs that don’t have anything vital to lose if they die or stop showing up. Especially since plot-importance is correlated with how much higher than starting your stats are, it’s probably a formula for discouraging new players from trying your game.

Is it more discouraging than what you get naturally after several years of a 5+ year campaign, though? It’s hard to say; most of the players I still keep in touch with are ones that got the good characters…

A Bonus

I don’t know if anyone has a use for nearly 80 Changeling: the Dreaming chimerical items and treasures statted in Mind’s Eye Theatre format. But if you do, here they are.

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