Blood at the Fringes: Representation and Otherness During The Night

The staff of the Night In Question prides itself on being an inclusive and diverse group; and wants to see that diversity and inclusiveness reflected in our game. We’ve written below to discuss how LGBT+ culture and minority representation relates to the horror genre, Vampire: The Masquerade and our event specifically, in collaboration with our LGBT+ staff.


Vampires. The attractive, powerful, enigmatic denizens of societal subversion. The charismatic lurkers just beyond the reach of society’s rules, regulations, and expectations. They are the movers and shakers that the world at large does not know or cannot comprehend – and thus, the thankless, the misunderstood, the martyred. Subcultures and countercultures that otherwise have no space in our world often see the vampire’s appeal as a potent symbol, a mascot of power and of society’s comeuppance.

This is nothing new. For decades, monsters and creatures of myth have been attractive to communities that are marginalized by mainstream society. Horror has been a vehicle for self-expression and reclaiming the “otherness” of a group as something powerful, and something strangely beautiful.

At the Fringes

The communities attracted to the magnetic icons of horror are varied. However, fringe communities that are unsavory can also be drawn to the narrative of the monstrous outsider seeking to gain power – and to wield it over others.

The Night in Question and Jackalope Live Action Studios have always maintained a strict no tolerance policy for real bigotry or hate in our games; and this stance will continue to be enforced in the days leading up to, during, and after our event. We seek to create a space to explore the intricate and often bleak underbelly of society and dark sections of the psyche that the Sabbat inhabit. But we have absolutely no desire to encourage real world hatred; and we have no tolerance for any rhetoric or behavior that would target real minorities. And this includes any covert references to hateful ideologies (known as “dog whistles”); barely disguised revisions of real world hate groups;  or hurtful proxies for the oppression of already marginalized communities.

In fact, The Night In Question seeks to do the opposite and to explore the beautiful, empowering expression that the vampire myth lends to marginalized or sidelined communities throughout history, such as the LGBT+ community. The history of the LGBT+ community using subcultures such as the rave, goth, horror, or club scene to express themselves safely is rich and storied. It would be worthy of several blog posts of its own.

The goth, punk, and raver kids of the 1990s embraced this sort of subversion of cultural norms and ideals that further this opportunity. Jackalope Studios and The Night in Question staff encourage participants to respectfully step outside the cultural expectations of standard gender presentation and role if they wish – as well as use this opportunity to learn more about the spectrum of self expression within a subculture where doing what your parents, your teacher or boss, your church ask of you is far less important than doing what feels right to you. The underground culture that the human characters will be coming from is one that draws from a deep cultural well of rebellion, subversion, androgyny, and a desperate need to be understood for your unique peculiarities, rather than what box society placed you in.

The human characters will explore a complex web of social and economic structures; and will often seek to subvert and invert them wherever possible. They will often come from backgrounds that have either rejected society or from which they themselves have been rejected.

Challenging The Normal

It has always been our society’s tendency to default to the “normal” – to exclude representation of transgender, non-binary, or non-heterosexual people. The media we consume is overwhelmingly mainstream in this respect and while it is changing for the better we often are drawn into the trap of defaulting to this “normal”. We encourage our staff and designers to reassess the knee-jerk view of what is “normal” and ask themselves: does it default to straight and cisgender (identifying with the gender assigned at birth)?

One example of this typecasting, which often excludes sexual and gender minorities, is assigning staff-written romantic subplots to characters. The Night in Question characters omit pre-written romance, leaving the players in control to create collaboratively any romantic or sexual subplots they want to be involved in, if at all. This is an attempt to not only emphasize consent of all parties but also to not exclude opportunities for representation of non-heterosexual romance or asexual/aromantic characters. This is just one small thing that we can do to make openings for these types of characters to be represented in ways, when we might not always realize they are being excluded.

Rebels and Monsters

We firmly believe that rather than the vampire narrative always being one inherently of oppression with the rise to power over “lesser” mortals, that it in fact can be an example of the underrepresented and underpowered rising up and overturning oppressive power paradigms. The Night in Question leaves ample room to show the oppressed and the small rising up to revel in the freedom and revolution of coming into power, of in some fashion casting aside shame and apology and societal caste systems to create something new. The Sabbat have always represented the rebels of vampiric society, those that rebel against what the world expects and carve out their own niche with its own rules instead.

There is catharsis in casting off the trappings of society, and while we are in no way at all implying that minority communities are “monstrous” – many of the staff belonging to said communities ourselves. But we are encouraging players to see that these communities are perhaps the most apt to seize the narrative of being outsiders looking for their own power and growth that circumnavigates the old rules.

All Monsters, But No Hate

All of this is to say that The Night in Question will represent a churning pool of tumultuous youths from a culture that attracted the “weird” and the “other”; and we encourage players to consider stepping outside their comfort zones to experience a night in a character that would feel most at home in a secret city of outcasts–a sphere of characters that historically has overlapped significantly with the LGBT+ community. The Night in Question staff is a pool of people happy to help players workshop their characters to create well-rounded, believable typesets that are both exciting and culturally sensitive.

We do not want caricatures, but instead actors that draw from a beautifully diverse, rich, interesting culture that can and should reflect the vividly real and important outcasts that historically existed in these spaces. These spaces have always been weird, abnormal, and thus “queer” in one way or another. We encourage you to consider playing a character that embraces the diversity of the weird and the transgressive – and to leave the boring (or the hateful) at home.


The Night in Question will be November 17, 2018 outside of Austin, Texas. The event will have staff trained in emotional and psychological support as well as physical, along with: workshops for characters preceding the event; monitoring during the event with out of game spaces for players if they need help or get overwhelmed; and debriefing after the event. For a list of restricted or banned content as well as a list of the content warnings and advisories of the event, visit this page on our website.

Players are encouraged at any time to reach out with questions, concerns, suggestions, or clarifications on event rules or procedures in the months leading up to the event and can do so by emailing info@jackalope-larp.com.

Your last chance to buy installment tickets

To make it easier to pay for the Night In Question, we offer an installment plan where you pay a little less than half to reserve a ticket. The remaining amount is due by midnight on July 1st.

If you want to take advantage of this plan, sales for installment tickets cuts off this week, midnight on May 31st.

If you have already bought an installment ticket and wish to pay the remaining amount, click here to make your payment.

Killing Each Other Collaboratively: Bespoke vs. Traditional LARP

Coming from the Nordic and freeform traditions, The Night in Question‘s playstyle is called bespoke. But what does that mean, and how different is it from traditional Vampire: The Masquerade LARPs?

Enlightenment in Blood 2017. Photo by Tuomas Hakkarainen.

The Meaning of Bespoke

Bespoke can mean two things – something made specifically to an individual’s tastes and requirements; and showing something through appearance and action. The bespoke style embraces both of these definitions –

Bespoke games emphasize the control of each player over their experience. Nothing happens to your character without consent – but you are encouraged to take hold of the game and play in interesting engaging ways, since if you cannot truly lose, there’s nothing to be gained constantly by winning.

Bespoke players set out to immerse and embody the action of the game. At all times, the game and the players attempt to appear as the thing they are trying to be. Physical contact, stage-fighting, in-depth props and immersive environments are all in the mix. But the idea above takes precedence over all – the bespoke game provides the tools for physical roleplay and intense contact, but does not require it and requires negotiation at all times for it.

Wait, I thought this a Nordic game?

Kind of. One of the ongoing problems with the term “Nordic” that even its adherents will tell you is… it can mean many things. Nordic can be everything from high fantasy immersive weekend campouts with latex weapons to playing in an empty darkened room in street clothes.

The bespoke term was invented by our partners Participation Design Agency when they set out to describe the style of Enlightenment in Blood and other similar games they created; and they came out of the Nordic style of play. We’re continuing to use it and are introducing it to the American audience here.

Consent and Collaboration are King

Traditional parlor LARP focuses on conflict-based roleplay and mechanics. In challenges between players or when facing obstacles, systems are used to determine who is victorious. Success and control of the scene is determined by having a character who has the appropriate abilities and the right luck. In parlor LARP, you can win things. You win a game of rock-paper-scissors. You win a challenge. You win a position.

The bespoke style is different. In a single night, players are collaborating to make the most engaging enriched environment and story possible. You have unprecedented control over what can be done to your character compared to traditional games. But you will soon learn that saying no to everything is not much of a victory. Bespoke style games emphasize playing toward the most interesting result – even a self-destructive end for your character.

In The Night in Question, you are free to declare yourself the one who always gets away from the snarling monsters, but where does that leave you?

Bespoke intentionally takes the joy of victory out of ‘winning’ – the real winning in the bespoke game is to have an awesome story that you will tell for years afterwards and to push your limits as a person, while feeling safe doing so.

Enlightenment in Blood 2017. Photo by Tuomas Hakkarainen.

But Consent Trumps Collaboration

One of the important rules of this collaborative style is that it must not pressure people into doing things they might not want to do.

You are never required and never encouraged to take a step or do something you as a player are not comfortable with or consent to – period, no exceptions. No mechanic, no power, no story line trumps your physical and emotional comfort, and anyone in the game who pushes otherwise will be warned then removed.

The safety workshops before the event; the safety team during game; and the culture of safety we are building at Jackalope are all working toward protecting people from this kind of pressure and helping people feel comfortable at games. Without that environment, the level of physical role-play and immersion we are aiming for would not be possible or advisable.

Safety and collaboration do not blunt our games, but allow us to go boldy into the dark.

Presenting safety mechanics at a pre-game workshop. A War of Our Own, 2018. Photo by Peyton Mo.

Searching for Powerful Experiences

American LARP often emphasizes plot and story progression. The bespoke style is focused on creating a powerful compact immersive experience. Emotional development and conflict are the order of the day; and there are often no overarching secrets to discover or plot to piece together.

In The Night In Question, we expect you to explore the World of Darkness around you, to express and experience the horror of this place we’ve created. But we have no plot arc we expect be fulfilled. The events of the game are a framework for creating a rich experience together, not a challenge presented to you as a group to overcome or figure out.

Loading the Powder Keg

Bespoke LARPs are not sandboxes where any character can be created. Characters and groups are pre-written as part of a game’s plot and set-up, then assigned to players. So it is important not to have strong preconceptions about what you will play. Be open to all sorts of experiences when you go into a bespoke game – and remember the writers have done their best to make every character engaging and complete – and most importantly, ready to hit the ground running.

The writers of a bespoke LARP like The Night In Question write powder kegs ready to explode. The situation is going to infused with drama and conflicts ready to go off, bad choices to be made and bad things ready to happen. This is part of the point – we have six hours to have an incredible experience, and it’s important for everyone to hit the ground running.

With our Larpweaver system, you will be guided into creating a character by a combination of pre-written content and your own play style. The pre-written material is there to inspire your own spin on the character, not dictate every last detail. 

Civilian characters are rounded up by rebel soldiers. A War of Our Own, 2018. Photo by Steve Metze.

Expanding On Your Character

Your assigned character will have premade ties to other groups and characters, along with an outline of their personality and their starting position in the game. But this is not the limit of what you can do! You are encouraged to reach out to other players, make new connections, come up with more back story and find new hooks that will make the night more intense for you and others.

Once you have your character, reach out on social media, start conversations, reveal secrets, make plans and set yourself up to have one hell of a night. We can’t promise any of these plans will survive, but we can promise they’ll be the basis of a great night to come.

Getting Physical

One of the things we  can gain from emphasizing consent and doing workshops is that we can afford a physical style of role-play that is much more immersive than your average game. Physical interaction is encouraged in the play space between consenting and enthusiastic players who negotiate them. While American parlor LARP has strong taboos against personal contact, the bespoke style uses an ongoing conversation of consent and safety to make physical contact possible.

Want to be romantic in character? You tell each other what you are comfortable with, even if it is just touching each others’ shoulders or holding hands; or goes as far as actual kissing. Or just declining completely to be touched, which is always an option. There are limits on sensual and physical contact, for sanity reasons and to keep everyone else at the event is comfortable and consenting to the experience.

Want to have a fight? You can negotiate playing it out using the skills you learned in the workshop that empowered you to do so safely and with consent. If you prefer, you can narrate it, or simply be chased off into the darkness followed by a scream. But you can also become part of the atmosphere and have the experience of playing out being attacked within your limits and the game’s safety guidelines.

With all physical contact, consent can be revoked at any time and must be respected absolutely. It is always optional.

Players engage in a negotiated stage fight. Enlightenment in Blood 2017. Photo by Matthew Webb.

Breaking the Rules

Bespoke-style games break the rules of classic Mind’s Eye Theatre games, because they are encouraging a different experience.  While secrets and powers are an emphasis for those games, bespoke games move in the direction of sharing things out of character, metagaming and encouraging your character to fail.

Show Your Secrets

We want you to communicate out of character with other players, telling them your character’s secrets, weaknesses and motivations. Meta-gaming is not considered negative. Use it  to drive character development and push for emotional intensity.

Tell people your character wants to betray them, and see if they set up situations where that betrayal is interesting and adds to the story. Tell them exactly how to threaten your character, and open yourself up to situations where they are driven to new places by those threats.

Negotiating character ties before game. A War of Our Own, 2018. Photo by Peyton Mo.

Simple Powers

Compared to a normal Vampire: The Masquerade game, the vampires and other supernaturals of The Night In Question have a very limited and simple power set.

Mental and social powers are represented by a small collection of phrases that can be used, incorporating the keywords really really into them. A character would not have the full span of the powers of the Presence discipline, but may have access to abilities such as “You really really want to follow me.”“You really really find me impressive.” or “You really really want to run away from me.” One with dominate might be able to say, “You really really will forget what just happened.”

And none of them can be used to trump consent or safety.

A vampire uses a power on a mortal. End of the Line 2016. Photo by Tuomas Hakkarainen.

Violence as Drama

All violence is negotiated out and must be consented to. Players must consent to what happens to their character through violence.

Violence, brawls, fights, monomacy duels – these are meant to be dramatic moments to play out physically after negotiation, not dealt with through mechanics. Prop weapons are not involved in any calculation of strength but rather are tools and props for telling the story of that encounter, though you may decide together that one side wins because of the weapon they have.

Try to embrace losing as much as winning violent struggles, and use those moments to develop your story. And since you can only die with your consent, fights can heighten the action without ending your evening – unless you feel that your character should die and their story has come to an end.

And if your character dies in The Night In Question, the World of Darkness is a place where death is not necessarily the end…

Black marketeer guard watches over an exchange. A War of Our Own, 2018. Photo by Peyton Mo.

Many differences, great games

Bespoke LARPs are different than Mind’s Eye Theatre LARPs, but we love both. The bespoke style creates a very different experience to create different ways of exploring the World of Darkness together.

There’s a lot to process here. You might have questions about how negotiation works, how The Night In Question is structured, and all these questions will be available to be answered in the next series of design posts.

Come play this exciting new style of game in November! Tickets available here!

Discounted Rooms Now Available

The Hampton Inn in Bastrop has offered a block of discounted rooms to our players, at a discount rate. This will also be the site of our briefing and workshops the day of the game, so it makes it the best option for lodging for our players.

To get your rooms at a discount rate, book online with the group code NIQ or call the hotel and or call 1-800-HILTONS and ask for the Night in Question Group.

Well, This Escalated Quickly

24 days ago, Jackalope Live Action Studios stepped forward and proposed a new and awesome way of experiencing the World of Darkness like never before.

Our estimates were that we’d maybe sell out our early bird tickets by the start of July, and we based our budget on that being the minimum needed to run our event.

Boy, were we ever wrong

As of this morning, all of our early bird tickets are sold, only 81 out of 100 of the standard tickets are left, and almost all of our premium packages have sold. We’re already on track to selling out the event completely. We’ve even talked about opening up a second run of the game if we have enough demand.

Over 100 people are already signed up to show up in November and breath a life into this night of blood, fun and terror.

Jackalope understands we’re a young studio, though all of us our veterans of running and playing LARP. We know that this represents a huge amount of trust and confidence being placed in us, both by our partners at White Wolf and all of our new fans and friends. We won’t let you down, and we’re proud that you have seen something in us worth fostering.

What’s next?

If you have already bought your tickets, let your friends know to get theirs before they run out. Watch your inbox for more updates, as our event team will contact you with important details. If you haven’t yet, get yours while you still can. We can only have so many people at the game.

 

Stay tuned in the next few weeks – we will be publishing more details on the game experience and our techniques, we will be announcing our hotel room block details so you can get discounted rooms for the event and we will have more fun plans coming up.

Also, if you are a member of Mind’s Eye Society, Underground Theater or One World By Night, pay attention to your organization’s announcements. We’re about to give some special fund-raising opportunities to those organizations which have fostered Vampire: The Masquerade LARP for all these years.

Until then

Consider:

And from all of us on the Jackalope Live Action Studios, thank you and we hope to be killing you all without mercy very soon.

Welcome Ashley Bles as Creative Director!

Jackalope Live Action Studios is pleased to announce Ashley Bles as the new creative director for The Night In Question. Ashley comes from an amazing storytelling and game-running background, and will be overseeing the creation of characters, backgrounds and materials for players.

Ashley Bles has been writing creatively for over half her life, and helping spearhead nerdy endeavors for almost as long. She holds one of the only comic studies degrees in the country, with a focus in inclusive storytelling and utilization of mass media communication. She has spoken about storytelling and creative, interactive media at various conventions and functions, including two presentations at Comic Con International in San Diego and guest lectures at her alma mater. She helped start The Legion of Nerds, a college organization that now is the largest at her alma mater and has spread to other universities. She currently works as a project manager at a video game and software company while moonlighting as a writer for various publications both digital and print.

As for her LARP resume: Ashley helped design the setting and story for the Arkansas chapter of Dystopia Rising, where she was Head Storyteller and was affectionately called the Blood Marshal for her love of creating splatter mods and realistically gory props. She particularly focused on player buy-in, intricate group dynamics, emotional story, and vivid worldbuilding. Ashley is looking forward to bringing her experiences to The Night In Question both as a content creator and logistics manager uniting the many visions into an event to remember.