A Global Chronicle

I am involved in the Camarilla, which is the White Wolf RPG publishing company’s official fan organization. Among other things, the Cam organizes a global campaign for live action roleplaying, or LARP. This is a “theatrical LARP,” not a “boffer LARP.” We don’t hit each other with foam weapons; instead, we have more social and politically-focused games, and any combat is as heavily abstracted as it is in tabletop roleplaying. The nature of a global campaign raises some very interesting issues in game design.

The Cam is not the only global LARP campaign around; One World By Night is another organization that runs a similar campaign for the old World of Darkness setting, for example. As far as I know, though, the Cam is the largest global LARP around. A global campaign means that local games are connected to games across the US and the world, so that I can go on a trip to California and use the character I play in Charlotte to a Camarilla game there. Events that occur in Alabama can affect nearby locations, and there are periodic conventions where players and characters from all over the world come to play in a single game. This results in all sorts of interesting consequences and annoyances.

The aforementioned continuity means that there are great opportunities for character growth and interaction that aren’t present in smaller games. If a character in a tabletop game wanted to find a mentor to teach her some ability, for example, the GM would probably create an NPC for that purpose, since the other three to six players would be unlikely to have the ability. In the Cam, though, I can put out a request on a national mailing list and find another PC who will teach me: one who may be from several states away.

If a city is having special difficulty, they can get help from elsewhere. Charlotte’s vampires had a problem several months ago with a group of Belial’s Brood: powerful, amoral, and aggressive rival vampires that were attacking the PCs. We sent out the word, and a large group of people visited from other cities to lend combat support, either traveling in person or by sending in “proxies,” where the players have local GMs run their characters for them.

All of this presents interesting difficulties for the GMs of the game, which White Wolf calls Storytellers, or STs. There’s a hierarchical ST chain. The Master Storyteller sets the overall plotline for the world as a whole, and responsibilities trickle down to National, Regional, Domain (local), and Venue (specific game setting) Storytellers. The Venue Storyteller, or VST, is responsible for the day-to-day workings of a single game in one city (Vampire or Mage or whatever), by authorizing XP purchases, responding to between-game downtime reports, or actually running individual game sessions. The DST is responsible for the actual setting of the city; she is the one who decides how responsive the police are, or what non-supernatural events affect all of the different games running in a city. The RST handles issues that affect a whole region, and so on.

Certain rarer elements of the game are limited by the storytelling staff. For instance, it would weaken the novelty of certain unusual and powerful vampire bloodlines if there were three vampires in each city with their powers. Likewise, not everyone can carry around Billy the Kid’s pistol. For this reason, there’s a complex approvals system that allows players to apply for permission to use rare or unique game elements. These requests get passed up the ST chain to the appropriate person to sign off on them. Similarly, STs can get permission to use rare adversaries in their games, and report significant events like major news events to their regional staff so that the news can be relayed among all the cities who would hear about it.

It’s a complicated system with its share of irritating bureaucracy, but it’s impressive how well the system works. I’ve recently become interim VST of Charlotte in charge of the new Geist setting, where player characters are people brought back from the dead through contracts with ghostly beings. I’ve been able to craft our local city’s history and supernatural geography from scratch, knowing that it will get integrated with the global chronicle. The regional staff actually gets to stitch together the local maps of the Underworld so that a character could theoretically travel from Orlando to Charlotte via segments of the Underworld designed by a sequence of storytellers along the East Coast. It’s a bit intimidating, the scale of everything, and it’s exciting to be able to be part of crafting such a large and long-lasting game.

MMOs are said to be large-scale, but they usually lack a geographical component; a player from Seattle has the same options and starting condition as one from Cairo. Global LARPs like the Camarilla are unique, as far as I know, in tying in-game setting and politics to real-world geography. Expect to see more posts from me on the interesting and complicated side-effects of the global chronicle.

Have you had any interesting experiences in a large-scale roleplaying game? Is there a digital game that you think is similar in some way to a global campaign like the Cam’s? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.