‘Vampire’ clans battle in Purnell Hall
Published: Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 00:04
Soft, haunting music echoes off the walls of the first floor of Purnell Hall on a recent Saturday night as a man wearing a top hat and carrying a cane slinks down the corridor. The music comes from a small stereo attached to his belt. People dressed in suits, trench coats, gowns and black angel wings are gathered in groups throughout the hallway and outside along The Colonnade. These groups talk among themselves, make business deals and plot against one another.
The scene has been set for a vampire-themed LARP, or live action role-playing game, one of many LARPs that take place on campus and the surrounding community. LARPs are similar in nature to murder mystery dinners, in that the participants play characters in pre-determined scenarios. This particular LARP has a very complex backstory about vampires "because they're cool right now," explains David Christoph, a 1997 university alumnus and one of the event coordinators.
The story is largely based on religious lore about the origin of vampires, as well as stories from other cultures. Through each night's events, the story morphs, but a consistent, albeit complex, modern fantasy backdrop remains.
The bi-weekly event originally started when the university challenged student organizations to come up with an activity on weekend nights that did not involve alcohol, says Galadrim Treasurer Ben Walker. However, the game quickly gained popularity, and many side games formed as well.
"I play this game because it's very different and I can be someone very interesting," says university alumnus Josh Martin.
The event is run through a partnership between The Foundation for the Interactive Arts, a local nonprofit theater troupe, and Galadrim, a registered student organization. The Foundation for the Interactive Arts provides many of the plots and props for the events, while Galadrim organizes the logistics.
"We've worked with them to systematize and create a book put out by the University of Delaware Press," Walker says. "They provide the expertise, and we provide basically the testing events for things."
Participants are given a character card that describes various attributes and skill levels of the role they will play. Although each individual is free to develop their character as they please, it must be done within certain limits in order to keep the game fair. Some adopt an accent specific to their character, which they are encouraged to maintain. Props are also heavily encouraged but must be examined and evaluated by the staff for aesthetic and safety reasons.
"The idea is to provide rules for make-believe," Christoph says. "Our goal is to provide interactive theater entertainment to students, particularly college and high school students, for free."
At the start, participants form a circle around a central figure who acts as the guide for the night's events. He leads the imaginations of the participants and describes the night's story in vivid detail. Many players close their eyes in order to fully slip into the narrative being spun around them.
The LARP game works on a points system. Each character has a certain amount of skill points that determine resistance to attacks and ability to perform spells and other specialized tasks—such as invisibility and knowledge of foreign languages. Laying one or more fingers, depending on the skill level, across the chest and over the heart indicates to others that a character is invisible.
Although the storyline changes as deals are made and battles are fought, characters remain consistent from game to game. That is, until a character is killed off, in which case the player must create and develop an entirely new character.
Clan meetings are held to discuss the skill levels members have achieved, as well as threats made against the team. A group of particularly wealthy vampires held their meeting in the lounge tucked in the back corner of Purnell. Although the room provides physical protection from attacks from foes, threats against the life of one player are sent via text message.
Battles are fought using this point-based system and a randomizing element, rock-paper-scissors. Participants refer to these bouts of rock-paper-scissors as "chops."
"It was the most non-violent thing anyone could think of to avoid us actually punching each other in the face, which would be ludicrous," Christoph says.
The rules and guidelines for the game are all contained within a book that Galadrim compiles and publishes yearly. The book provides basic rules for the game, as well as guidelines for in and out of character behavior.
For some, these guidelines help develop social skills for real world interactions. Martin described LARPing as a social stepping stone and explains that LARPing is a great environment for people with Asperger's syndrome or others who may have trouble with social situations. He explains that it provides a rulebook on social interactions in an environment with people who are accepting and supportive.
"I was a very different person four years ago," Newark resident Jeremy Fox says. Fox credits LARPing for helping him to develop his public speaking skills and become more empathetic and comfortable at recognizing social cues.
"It wasn't that I was unaware of them before," he says. "I just didn't care."
Galadrim, which is celebrating its 23rd year on campus, has a well-established history of creating game books, play testing and simulations. The group recently branched out to working on disaster simulation. The nursing school reached out to the club to "sharpen up" the drills the department conducts for triage exercises, Walker says.
"We in Galadrim are in the business and effort of trying to put together simulations of what makes a good game and how to game-ify tasks," he says. "But we are more interested in teaching people how to play and run creative games than we actually spend time playing them."