Worlds of Darkness 10: Then We Took Berlin


After Tenebrae Noctis, back to Germany for a new city/convention trip: World of Darkness Berlin 2017.


Wednesday 10th of May
On a five hour budget, I walk. I take the 100 bus line from Zoologischer Garten, get a view of the park and embassies with fancy architecture before reaching Brandenburger Tor, where I experience the Snake Plissken effect (smaller than what I expected). I walk around and see more embassies. I end up on Charlottenstrasse, in the Rausch store. There I get to meet the spirit running the city. He blesses me and gives me clearance to visit his kingdom, provided I agree to praise his fighting stance.
Don't try to stare him down.

Then I walk to Museum Island and visit the Pergamon. I am afraid I will not have time to see everything but the Louvre has spoiled me, normal museums don't take more than a couple of hours to visit. The Babylon Gate of Ishtar and Roman-era Milet market are impressive. Some of the monumental guardians still have some of this je ne sais quoi that made the people in Ashur shiver with fear. They know who I am, of course, but the chocolate protects me from their withering stare.
Sphinx-like sentinels eat hippopotamuses for breakfast.

I also enjoy the floor dedicated to Islamic art and culture. I wonder if some of the museum attendants I see originate from Syria or Iraq.

I then walk some more among Berliners taking a nap and a beer next to the river and in the parks around.
Having somehow missed the memorial for the victims of the Shoah (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas), I return there and spend a dozen minutes in contemplation. The way I experience it, it feels like some family-friendly modern art installation dropped there without an explanation. Some tourists are taking pictures of themselves on top of the columns, there is nothing solemn at first. And then, as you walk down towards the center of the memorial, the columns grow taller and the alleys become darker and the mood gets more introspective, a sense of something else sets in. When you walk back and up into the light, maybe something remains.
You can always escape to the light.

I spend the evening with my contact in Berlin. Véronique K is a super special agent with high proficiency in German. Her cover is being my cool cousin and having a whole nice teacher family set up in a huge apartment. We discuss in coded language, pretending to be talking about the mundane things of life, politics, music and how cute their children are.
Berlin level Beginner Beer ••

Thursday 11th of May
In the morning, I head to the convention venue, the Mercure Hotel MOA, for a breakfast meeting with Mathieu S and Fabien M, the Arkhane Asylum crew. They are the French licensees for the 20th Anniversary line. Unfortunately, part of the reason they are good at what they do is their dedication to their tasks, and an incoming deadline prevents them from enjoying the convention. Thanks for the brunch, mates!
Beer •••

At 1PM, tabletop roleplaying with the nominees of the scenario competition! I am glad to play The Last Boat out of Barcelona by Pablo Valcárcel, my first choice. This V20 game is set in 1939 in Barcelona, hours before the city falls to the rebels. In the 20's and 30's, fascists toppled democracies either through violence and intimidation (Italy), insinuating themselves into the political landscape and using elections as a path to power (Stefan Zweig believed Hitler would be a fluke and that it would be safe to allow him to fail), or mass murders and a full scale civil war against a legitimate government (Spain). If the First World War starts the 20th century and the Shoah is its nadir, the Spanish civil war, to me, symbolizes the global battle for the soul of the world. And the good side lost. It's where we first learned what the future would look like (a boot stamping on your face, forever).
So, the setting is pretty desperate. The characters start as Anarchs in a city run by Communists, which means that their enemies are both internal and external, and both mortals (the sieging fascists and the local government - communists don't like to share power with other worker organizations, ask Andrés Nin) and undead (the usual suspects: Camarilla, Sabbat). The pitch of the scenario is that one boat is going to evacuate a few lucky people, and we all have mortal allies we would like to take with us. Difficult choices ahead...
Crew: Nils (great Storyteller), Andreas (the doctor), Jennifer (the pasionaria), Craig (Josh, plus the depressed poet), me (a German-Jewish girl who came here to crush fascism). 3 Germans, 1 Australian, 1 Frenchman, 0 correctly pronounced Spanish names.

At 7PM, we watch the World of Darkness documentary at the Delphi theater (one of those at the very least, supposedly the one where Murnau's Nosferatu premiered). Somewhere on rpg.net there is a huge thread of people arguing about the self-aggrandizing chutzpah of those White Wolf poseurs. I did not actually read the posts, but I think the film does show individual journeys and the way they reflect on the human condition. Among the interviewees, not only former and new White Wolf employees, but also a selection of fans. I always disliked signature characters, one of the false good ideas of the World of Darkness, at least the way they were historically used. However, one of the best moves by White Wolf - CCP with V20 was the incarnation of signature characters by models picked among the fans of the setting and pillars of the community. The interviews of some of these 'character players' really bring the perspective the documentary needed. The WoD is gaming, yes, and art too, but the sense of shared culture is what makes it great - Vampire is about playing rejects that try to be human, and many fans stuck with it because it resonates with their teenage experience. I remember, in high school, witnessing the guy who first showed me the Vampire 1st ed book being pushed on the ground by the local rightwing bully. I bet this story repeats ever and ever.
The most important feature of the show, of course, is the open bar.
When did I first visit the Succubus Club? 2003?


Beer ••••
Wine ••
Cocktail •••••

I would be remiss if I failed to mention my little adventure with a fellow from Glasgow. At 1AM the Delphi closes and some area undead and assorted White Wolf luminaries decide to pay a visit to a club on the other side of Berlin. With mechanical politeness, I let everybody into the cabs and soon enough I am the only passenger in the last cab. But wait, a gentle soul jumps out of the next to the last cab and joins us. Right off the bat, I spot that, first, the alcohol is strong in this one; let's say Joe must have fully exploited the potential of the bar; and, second, the guy is fully functional and as strong as an ox. Actually, he rips a bit of cab furniture by mistake. I ask him where he comes from, he shows me a scar on his face, a smile and a fist. Turns out he does boxing for a living, if I get it right.
The cab drops us by mistake half a mile away from the club, at a similarly named restaurant. So we start to walk our way to the club, at close to 2AM, on the mostly desert pavement. Joe then proceeds to show me how to get in boxing stance, adjusting my hand position as he prepares to demonstrate what must surely be a much deadlier punch than the one they serve at the Delphi. Very unnecessarily, I remind my sparring partner that I have a family that loves me and we resume our walk.
We arrive at the club and of course there are bouncers, a girl with the brains and two or three bodybuilding henchmen. The girl looks at my Scottish friend and suggests that we take a back step, drink a glass of water, eat something and come back in ten minutes. A few meters away, there is a Turkish food stand and I buy a sandwich and chips for Joe. He eats none of that but insists to offer me one beer. At this stage, it is clear that we will not enter into the club tonight. We make friends with students from Lexington, Kentucky, and the night gets ready to start but I decide to chicken out to the hotel. Joe is ready to follow the Americans to Kentucky, but opts instead to join me into the cab. We head back to the hotel, where the first question he asks me in the morning when I see him is "How did I came back here yesterday?".
If you read these lines, Joe, thanks again for the company!
Beer •••••
Wine ••
Cocktail •••••


Friday 12th of May

9AM Workshop for Enlightenment in Blood (see below), where we learn the rules that organizers have put in place to ensure we enjoy a safe experience.

10AM V5 Q&A panel with the White Wolf crew. Karim Muammar pitches the logic behind the design choices: A Beast I Am, Lest A Beast I Become - mechanics that create stories. Blood becomes central to the game experience, something that creates scenes. For the players it's a balancing act around Hunger and control. One-roll resolution for every situation (combat...) to speed the pace of the game. Dots and ten-sided dice still rule. "We borrowed quite heavily from Chronicles of Darkness", e.g. always the same target number (6). 90% backward compatibility. Blood - Hunger economy: "Every time you use blood, there is a risk." Hunger dice, you use them first in skill checks. Any 1's on those incur "compulsions". Possibility to spend Composure to cancel that effect, but the less Composure you have, the more likely the Beast is going to explode later on (Frenzy tests). Kenneth Hite is hard at work making a great rule system! "Lots of it come from a previous study by White Wolf about the different systems."

11AM World of Darkness and Slavic folklore. Baba Yaga should not be a Nosferatu, or even a vampire.
1PM White Wolf keynote
2PM instead of dancing disco like I should, I elect to take a nap.

8PM Enlightenment in Blood is a live action roleplaying game (larp) set in Berlin the night of an Anarch revolution. It connects to the ongoing metaplot, meaning that it both illustrates the events mentioned in the White Wolf keynotes and that it will feed in return the metaplot. For example, the way my character experiences it, the Prince dies at the Anarch bar (Jägerhütte), under the assault of a great many Anarchs, all with different reasons to hate his guts (my character's were humiliation and being robbed of his first business by the Camarilla, and he barks at the old monster in his final moments). This event might become the new canon. Another example is the way somebody at the Camarilla bar (Raumklang) let slip to members of the Technocracy that she is a vampire, and now the mage totalitarian faction is onto the local vampires including the Hope Foundation (my character's main subfaction) - which forebodes possible problems for Kindred due to something called the Second Inquisition, mentioned in the keynotes. Great stuff, being responsible for a mass hunt of your fellow player characters around the world!
The RAW Gelände looks like a Tim Bradstreet sketchbook.

The organization (by Participation Design Agency) is top notch. It has to be, in order to handle ~250 players in many locations! The rules are really really easy to use, no need to care about a character sheet, all that matters is keeping track of all contacts and the Larpweaver site helps a lot. There might be a tad too many channels for information in fact, because I also need to check the emails, the faction-specific Facebook groups and the purpose-made Undernet site.
It is my first WoD larp and my lack of experience with the format makes it both extra fun, and easy to miss opportunities. I witness some excellent roleplaying, for example by Oskar G (Church of Caine creepy bigshot), by Christopher S (depraved dealer of innovative art) or by Søren AH (the werewolf). I get to play with guys like Jason Carl and Mark Rhein•Hagen, lots of fun!

Beer ••••• •• (specials: There Was An Open Bar At The Church, Beware The Bottle Deposit)
Wine ••
Cocktail •••••


Saturday 13th of May

11AM Justin Achilli keynote. Very high level game design course; the three characteristics we need to promote in our games to make them fun are mastery, autonomy and relatedness.

3:30PM V5 pre-alpha playtest: NDA prevents me from talking about the rules; White Wolf tells us that they will publish the quickstarter soon anyway. I believe I can talk in a general fashion about the story; it is a direct continuation of the events of Enlightenment by Blood, so scheduling the test the day after is a nice touch. You play Anarch hunters the night after your usual preys destroy the local Camarilla... It plays out differently at each table, obviously. Our adventure results in a mixed bag of good news (alive!) and bad news (screwed!).
Crew: Brendan (storytelling impro master), Nikita, Daria, Heinrich and me (playing the ill-fated degenerate).

10PM Party at the Arena Club: the venue, a repurposed industrial building, features many discrete corners and a small dancefloor. I have a great time. I am not much into nightclubs because of the noise level and often the choice of music. The noise level is OK at first and the music is good. The party starts with a good laugh: the Brujah contestant wins the Dance With The Clans disco competition for the princedom of Berlin; all hail Brujah! -not sure this one will enter the canon, but it is really fun watching the special moves! At 11PM DJ Achilles starts his magic. Later, a performer gives a burlesque performance. I enjoy talking to the people; the first line is always "what did you play yesterday?" because the larp implies such a diversity of experiences that getting to know other aspects of it is a great way to re-explore it.

Beer ••••• •••• (specials: There Was An Open Bar At The Church, Beware The Bottle Deposit, The Line At The Bar Dates Back From Eastern Germany, Remind Me How To Talk To People Please)
Wine ••
Cocktail •••••


Sunday 14th of May

With but a few hours left in beautiful Berlin, I wander into the Käthe Kollwitz Museum near Ku'damm. It exhibits photos, drawings, woodcuts and sculptures from the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century. I am struck by the depiction of great poverty, hunger and despair in Berlin and Germany of this age and of historical revolts of poor people against their overlords (the Weavers and the Peasant War series). I direct French speakers to an in-depth analysis.
Bewaffnung in einem Gewölbe, Käthe Kollwitz

What can I say? There is something. I like the city, I like Käthe Kollwitz and Ishtar, I like the community, I like the games. Intelligent, open-minded and stimulating.
I am back at home, with a bit of beautiful darkness inside me (and, in my luggage, a different kind of darkness, courtesy of the King).

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