(Content Warning – may contain spoilers for the game, Giovanni: Children of the Black Sun, mentions violence, suicide, rape, mental health issues, things I thought were hot when I was a teenager)
Forever ago during the pandemic Cairns in Texas posted a link to a game she wished she could get to, a vampire game, Giovanni:Children of the Black Sun. It was advertised as a nordic game with horror overtones and since I played The Castle last year I’ve been rather interested in Nordic LARP. I went back and forth on it and then a conversation with The Fae Ref decided me to just go for it, turned out that Canadian Foodie and Betraying Best Friend were also playing.
In fact, the first conversation I ever had with Canadian Foodie we got distracted from calibrating for the LARP we were actually in by talking about how much we both loved playing with BBF and wanting to play with her at Giovanni. The thing that I wanted most was the premise of the game, back in the old days when I played Vampires in Public I really wanted to be turned during the course of the game. The refs gave me as close as they could but it wasn’t really doable.
Bunny was a blood-doll who got turned and, I can’t even remember the name of my stripping vampire who thought she was a Cerrdorr (Toreador for those who need a Vampire the Masquerade translation) but turned out to be an obscure bloodline, she started out a ghoul spying on the Vampires and then got drive-by bitten. Lisa Wesolowski, the Pendeffig (Ventrue) I will come back to later. Maybe tomorrow’s entry rather than todays. In anycase, I have always wanted to play through The Embrace, being turned from human to vampire because honestly thats the cool stuff and I read Anne Rice when I was a teenager and developed the predictable bad boy crush on Lestat.
I wanted to be scared, I wanted to have the horror and fear of being pursued and turned. So Canadian Foodie and BBF and I came up with a horrible idea of him using both sisters (because she and I were playing sisters) against each other.
He had a birthday party in London last week and invited anyone who was able to attend from Giovanni to come and talk a bit about the game before it started. So I did, moderate amusement was that most of us were talking Giovanni but this weekend was also Together at Last, an in-person version of Together Forever in France. Radio Phil and a Room Thirteen player who were playing brothers in that were also using the party to chat about that as were German Lu and her best friend. Plus Bunni was there just hanging out. And I met a Pirate, well, he had earrings in one ear and long hair so I’m claiming Pirate, he was also a CP player and there was something about his smile that reminded me of The Raconteur. Canadian Foodie vouched for him so I chatted to him a bit about my in game desires to be treated badly, I also met a Spanish Lovecraft Fan and we talked a bit about what we wanted to achieve in game and how we could link up our play. I also got introduced to Rainbow who was to be my room-mate at the game. I had no idea how awesome she was going to be.
CF, BBF and I then drove down to Devon from London – I have officially unlocked the ability to Drive in London which is some kind of skill in my opinon. To be honest the amount of potholes on the winding Devon roads also deserve recognition for my driving skills as well. Canadian Foodie kept me stocked up on coffee in anycase which is always wise if I’m driving.
One thing I found challenging about this LARP was the timings. We arrived at 5pm on Wednesday, there was a workshop at 9pm and our schedule for the next three days had breakfast from 9am, workshops 11-1, lunch and then time in 4pm-3am… oh my poor fatigue. Rainbow was a sweetheart but I was exhausted and all I remember about Wednesday was being so tired and hearing an American accent talking seemingly forever and me just not taking it in… was a bit nervous that I would need to be circumspect about getting dressed and such but she was very chill about nudity so suited me just fine.
I wasn’t as impressed with the workshops as I hoped to be. As ever with games I go with half a ref head on looking to steal useful techniques. What I wanted was for workshops and exercises to be allowing a group of ninety mostly strangers to explore dark scenes and get comfortable together, what I got was exchanging information and listening forever whilst trying not to fall asleep. I really didn’t get on with all the timings on this game though I did better than I expected, I was actually super proud of myself for managing to rest and hydrate appropriately, and I didn’t over-caffeinate! Hot squash was my saviour. Long periods of time sat down listening to rambling rules reading not so much.
Then it was time to get dressed and for the game to begin. The humans were paraded into the library, our powers were announced to the assembled vampires and a thousand greedy eyes looked over us. My abiding image from the start of this game is myself and BBF clutching each other as we were circled by Wenceslas and Anthemius of Clan Toreador and Sophoniba Prince of Tunis making increasingly threatening and terrifying remarks. (Anthemius being played by the Pirate I met in the pub). Then I was summoned to see Goratrix and had the first of several scenes with CF where we didn’t quite get each other. The problem I think is that we’ve done things before where we were so completely on the same page that I don’t think either of us were expecting the almost total bounce off that we actually had. The other problem was I was holding my energy in reserve because it was still the first day and I needed not to fall over with fatigue.
I did some dream sequences, started off with Goratrix’ childe and I pretty much did a pathworking with her, a number of people wanted one or two people to do it that way, like a nice little trance state, it did kind of put me into a bit of a ref space which I didn’t really want to happen but was probably not that surprising that it did. Of the whole weekend I had three very good dream sequences that stood out from the others, one singular person narrator (not me), one black box emotional scene where I basically just ate popcorn and one singular narrative joined in with by others. The dream sequences I did with other people I hadn’t played with before brought something home to me that I had not expected, I don’t kiss in LARP, generally I don’t even kiss my real life partners even if we’re playing in-character partners, mostly because if we are then we’re probably playing horrifically abusive and I need to know it’s pretend. If we do start kissing then it’s gone from being roleplay to out of character. With The Riddling Gatekeeper when we’ve played married then we’ve usually held hands passionately and done theatrical cheek brushes, with Arg Mike I think I kissed his cheek a couple of times, but then we were also laughing hysterically whilst rhythmically banging furniture in a locked room and making loud moaning noises. Well, I definitely felt in a minority this weekend gone! At first I just assumed that people were playing with their real life partners, nope, I was just being prudishly naive.
One quite interesting thing happened on the first day, the vampires bid to reserve a human and I was bought by a mad monk, a Cappadocian I think. And in the first clan meeting, there sat three humans, The Purge (played by a lovely Empire Player who Arg Mike and No Nickname commended to me), The Echo aka my sister Juliette (played by BBF) and myself. Lots of politicking, at one point a Nosferatu snuck in invisibly (I loved that guy! His body language was so on it). The Echo had been bought by a methusaleh who saw her lost lover whenever she looked at her (The Echo’s power was that she looked like whoever the viewer most wanted when they looked at her). I and The Purge had been bought by said mad monk… and he didn’t want us! There was some weird politics or just desire to mess with other vampires going on!
I was a bit variable on this, on the one hand it left my game open, on the other, I was having the experience of people being very excited by my power (to enable people to share dreams, often of memories) and then to bustle off, supposedly to go get people they wanted to dream with but actually to just vanish because that’s what happens in a LARP. It was however pretty disappointing and was not helping my instinct to vanish into a corner like I was sodding crewing/reffing. Anyway what with that experience and the guy who got my reserve not actually wanting me I wasn’t totally feeling involved in the game.
The second day I had hoped to be more lost in my mind than in reality, anchored only by my sister, as it was I was faced with the uncomfortable truth, I had intended to play this game as a horror game, I had written and prepared for a horror character. I had assumed my problem going in was that I was a little bit wobbly in my real life. That was not my only problem. I was face with the fact that I did play a vampire game for several years and I wasn’t that bad at it, and vampire is a political game in a horror mask. There was a point later on where I deliberately gave someone a head massage in the main room to try and keep an eye out for who was reacting to them… I have the instincts for a game of intrigue and politics and that wasn’t what I had intended or wanted to play!
The other unexpected thing that happened on the second day, which was the day of the auction, was all about my sister and her prospective sire…yeah…
I don’t play poly at LARP. OTT monogamy sure, but not poly – I want fantasy drama not stuff that apes my actual life drama. Luckily it was incestuous sister-wife type stuff which gave me a bit of distance but it was a little more close to home than I wanted.
So Goratrix offers my sister to his friend, Anthemius the vampire who scared us right at the start, the one who’s been seeing his side’s face in hers. The Tremere have been doing psychologically disturbing things with that, well maybe they were basically therapeutic but in dodgy ways, in any case Anthemius, Toreador architect of the Hagia Sophia, sired when his broken body hit the floor after a spectacular fall, played by the Pirate I met in the Pub on Tuesday.
Now they were clearly getting romantic together and mentally I was prepping to get myself sired by whoever Goratrix threw me under the bus to. That’s not what happened. The auction, the dramatic zenith around which the game was built, was a damp squib. Now I’ve done LARP auctions, I’ve seen AEON Horror do LARP auctions very well and Demons in Public too. This was not that, I agreed with the notion that the usual tension builder (the auctioneer speaking very very fast) might not be appropriate for a game when many or perhaps most of the players do not speak English as a first language. I also think that allowing the order of the bids to be mostly dictated by in-character politics and bribes whilst good for game was always likely to work against you in terms of tension building within the scene. However, the languourous delivery of Claudius Giovanni (as played in the game) was not good, nor was the character or crew in question being seemingly unable to keep track of numbers, lots or bids. I really did have the ref hat of, I could have staged this so much better, on. If you’re going to allow in-game politics to define order of the bids then you get that order written down and you have a strategy for every single lot to provoke drama rather than trying to get the auction over and done with as quickly as possible.
Watching my sister be bought by Anthemius(after a tense bid between him and the Cappadocian methusaleh) was what I expected to be the highlight of my game that day. Then CF gave me a bit of my own tension as he led me around the auction block whilst Claudius was trying to provoke bids. The Cappadocian who had had me on reserve bought me – THEN – announced that he was gifting me to Goratrix! The intake of breath! The moment of drama! Which was then undercut by the damned ref/NPC auctioneer telling them the couldn’t do that… oh honestly, if you want that level of control then you don’t encourage the players to arrange that sort of thing themselves, or you don’t interupt mid-scene if you’re concerned that it hasn’t been arranged by players. I was so annoyed. In anycase I remained the property of the Cappadocian monk – for now! I promised him to link up a dream of Constantinople involving rape and violence and half a dozen elders and he said that he had no intention of retaining my ownership – once again I was more or less on my own.
Before the auction I had managed to orchestrate (just) my revelation that I had caused my sister to be brought to this auction, so threw myself sobbing on BBF. And it was wonderfully done, one of the Tremere wanted to test out The Voice’s power, she was played by my roomie, Rainbow. And oh sweet lords, the Tremere told her to hurt me… so she sang and ohhhh nice choice because I love the use of Dido’s Lament in The Man Who Cried so I had Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci in my head when I was needing to sob, so I proper went for it crying for my sister’s forgiveness. Which she gave to me far too fast but it had been a little bit of a hurried scene and it’s hard to shout at a crying mess sobbing on the floor.
Anyway, post auction my sister has been persuading Anthemius that she can’t live without me… and so the plan is hatched… for Anthemius to buy me from the Cappadocian… who sells me to absolutely everyone who asks because they can’t sire me until the third day! Will it be Anthemius? Will it be Goratrix? Will it be secret option number three? Will the Cappadocian monk change his mind and randomly sire me anyway?
This is where it becomes a shared narrative over a game, because this is where the Pirate, BBF and I go to the offgame dining area and talk about the fact that if the game ended now we’d have a happy ending, but nobody wants that and we’ve got one day more. Part of the third day is a structured thing that everyone knows about off-game, that the humans, some of them at anyrate, are going to escape. Some players have been really into that and so there are some vampires funding the human escape. This game is being run with much the same character over multiple weekends with different players so I would imagine in each run the human escape will be backed by different vampires for very different reasons.
BBF wants to get sired by her Cappadocian methusaleh after being left horrifically bleeding and broken after Goratrix’ ritual… which comes as a bit of a surprise to me as I’d assumed that that would be what the Pirate was doing. And the Pirate wants to sire one of us at least so… well, I guess now I know what I’m doing for The Embrace… you know that part of the LARP that was the whole reason I signed up but that has gotten rather lost in the absolute morass of all the other stuff, the political game playing, the scenes of sobbing and the scenes that haven’t quite worked.
So then the Pirate and I talk, and we talk about darkness, violence, and rape… because my teen vampire books don’t sparkle – they bleed and really whats underpinning my desire for this game isn’t my love of White Wolf or my urge to play a Toreador spymaster courtesan, it’s Anne Rice. It’s Lestat. It’s sodding Interview with the Vampire. So when day three dawns and the humans run off to hide I go and hide, in the room which has had most of my dream sequences in and they’ve included several dodgy encounters of the rapey and violent kind.
And then I’m hiding next to a bed and in stalks the Pirate looking pretty damned good in his burgundy and gold surcoat, and I mean what teenager didn’t want her own personal Lestat to tell her that pleasure and pain were much the same thing when you’d lived long enough? Anyone thinking that I was my 41 year old self peering out from under that bed as a virgin nun has another thing coming. I had about the dignity of a 15 year old who got to play vampires, or the inner 18 year old who made I hope only one De Sade reference when the knives came out but I have a horrible feeling it was two. Because you are not telling me that the marquis wouldn’t have been right on board with the fact that vampire bodies can take a lot more from a blade than humans can. I mean he wrote snuff scenes, he’d probably have been disappointed they didn’t stay dead.
The scene didn’t feel particularly dark when I was in it, mostly because he raped her, killed her and then turned her and after some more torture she started to enjoy it. Which made the whole thing feel more like fantasy porn than dark and brutal… I think we went from brushing up against De Sade to Laurel K Hamilton honestly. To be fair if I ever roleplay a rape scene that feels like actual rape I’m going to be surprised… or possibly terrified. In anycase this was perfect and I was very happy to note that I was myself and able to follow through on the scene rather than freaked out by whatever triggers the pandemic left me with. In anycase roleplaying with The Teenage Boy has taught me that it’s not the victim in scenes like that who needs the aftercare so I hung out and chatted with the Pirate afterwards until it was time for his character to emerge and discover that The Echo had been sired by someone else. Which made everything terribly sad and she was a little disturbed by her sister’s enthusiasm for… knives… sex… death… you know… that sort of thing.
Honestly, mostly the scenes after that were wrapping up other people’s plots, making sure that we got acknowledged as his Childer and then heading out into a mostly happy ending. I had a moment of confusing everyone as the Cappadocian Monk gave me a magic item that screwed up Goratrix’s trying to work out who sired me… which element of surprise in a Vampire game sure, not so much in a shared narrative game. In anycase it all mostly came out in the wash and then we retreated to our rooms to drink Jam Shed wine (The Pirate has great taste) and talk about what had just happened until stupid o’clock in the morning.
Then driving CF and BBF to Heathrow and saying goodbye… after only physically knowing CF for a week – how strange the friendships the pandemic has left us with. How weird and wonderful the hobby of roleplaying is. How happy I am that I seem to be back to normal with men, for all of this year’s attempts to throw me backwards in that regard. I did get a solid grounding last year. And this weekend, I got some really solid moments of roleplay for all my complaining about the weekend as a whole.