LARP club features vampires, friendship

By Andrew Shull

The club’s president is an intellectual from 18th-century England. The adviser is an Arab… The club’s president is an intellectual from 18th-century England. The adviser is an Arab astronomer from the Islamic Golden Age, and they meet with 10 to 15 other “immortals” Friday nights on the Cathedral’s ground floor to act out a game which is played all across the world.

They are LARPers, and their club is probably not at all like what you’re picturing.

Live Action Role Playing is a game that has been played worldwide since the mid-1990s, and the chapter at Pitt became an official student organization just last semester — although people with no University affiliation can still play with the group. In it, each player creates a character, then plays that character within the game. Each character has a back story where somewhere along the line, he or she was turned into an immortal vampire.

There are few dramatic costumes, no prop weapons or battles and the club strictly forbids any physicality within the game.

“It’s a game where basically we write, tell and act out a story all at the same time,” said Chuck Werner, the club’s advisor and a Pitt faculty member who works in alumni relations.

Club members are attracted to LARPing for various reasons, Werner said. Some people enjoy games like “Dungeons and Dragons” and are more interested in the fantasy aspect of the game. Others are from writing or literary backgrounds and enjoy meticulously crafting their characters’ stories. Some members like the theatrics of it, and some — but certainly not all — enjoy putting together costumes for the game.

“As dramatic and overreaching as it sounds, it’s really run-of-the-mill, boring stuff,” Werner said.

Despite that tepid endorsement of the game, Werner said he advises the club because he has been playing the game since he was a student at Carnegie Mellon University. He said he still plays the game and that he stepped into the role as adviser because of his extensive experience.

“It’s about more than vampires,” club president Dan Murphy said, “It’s about what you do when you lose your humanity.”

Murphy, who is a senior history major, plays the character of a “Faux Intellectual” who lived in England during the 1750s. Murphy said his character decided to become a vampire because he thought being immortal would give him a chance to reach his full intellectual power.

Players reported that the game’s intrigue comes from the social, political and moral implications of living as a vampire in a human world.

The group’s particular brand of vampire lore is based on Anne Rice’s novel, “Interview With a Vampire,” as well as in the film adaptation from the early 1990s.

The game was originally known as “Vampire Masquerade.”

Werner said that although there are other LARP games that involve other supernatural beings — such as ghosts — the vampire-themed game is the most popular. Pitt’s group chose to play the vampire version because it would give it the best opportunity to reach the largest audience.

Characters can form loosely organized “packs” within the game, and treachery can abound. The Pitt group boasts two different packs.

“My pack is called ‘Short Bus to Graceland,’ freshman club member Julie “Mage” Wegner said. “We’re not as serious as [some of the other club members] are.”

She said that there were about five club members in her pack, which is more of an informal alliance that manifested within the club.

Wegner explained that one character started off a game by betraying his pack, sharing secrets with its rivals.

But she needed to be wary of this move — as it could be construed as a double-cross and damage the pack.

At a meeting in early March, two of about 10 members in attendance had costumes on, which were simply black trench coats and wide-brimmed, black leather hats. The rest wore street clothes, and none of the members wore fake fangs at the meeting.

While discussing common misconceptions about the club, Murphy said that some people might assume based on the nature of the game that members are antisocial, but that isn’t the case.

“What keeps me coming back to LARP is the people,” Murphy said.

He said that the group members are highly intelligent, fun and charitable people. The club recently held an event which attracted 30 to 40 regional players and raised about $1,000 for the Pittsburgh food bank by auctioning off items that could be used within the game.

Murphy said the group recently added two new members who just moved to Pittsburgh, so the club members have been taking them out to eat and to see the city — underscoring the social role played by the club.

Werner said the club is very welcoming to newcomers, who are essential to the group’s survival. He encouraged people to jump right in and try, even though it can take time to understand the game. Despite this, more experienced players will always be happy to help people who are unfamiliar with the relevant literature.

He also said that knowledge of the novels is not required to be successful in the game. The story line of the game itself is completely different, as it is one that is created and acted out live at the games.

However, Murphy would caution perspective players not to show up assuming that their game bares similarities to vampires like the ones from “Twilight.” He said that it is a game of personal horror, not romance.

Murphy explained that the personal horror stems from going from being a human to being a monster and fighting within one’s self to retain one’s humanity. He made the distinction that although vampires need to drink blood to survive, they do not necessarily need human blood to survive.

Not succumbing to that temptation is part of the game. That, plus the intriguing politics, social dynamics and elaborate back stories all make this a hobby that is much bigger than simply acting out vampire fantasies.