Enlightenment in Blood: AAR and interview with Juhanna Pettersson

Enlightenment in Blood (EiB) was a Nordic style live action roleplaying (larp) game set in Berlin on the 12th of May, 2017, using the World of Darkness setting. It was a pervasive game, blending the real (RAW Gelände area) and the fictional (pretend vampires pretending to be hiding from mortals), with players moving in the streets of the city between ten different locations. Think of it like an augmented reality game where, instead of trying to catch monsters in the crowd, you would roleplay one (with other players).
The game designers delivered a range of character concepts (via Larpweaver, a Incognita Limited software). The one I picked was the Serial Entrepreneur: he would create a business, sell it, then create another one, etc. It was up to me to flesh it up a bit. I decided "Marc Laurentes" would be all about social entrepreneurship: trying to do business in a socially responsible fashion and using it as a key selling point with both mortals and vampires. Did this concern for the impact of his business ventures spring from a sincere, deep-rooted need to help and contribute? Only on the surface. Rather, it was a way for him to have something to sell, to grandstand, to be able to gain legitimacy from a new secular and fashionable religion. It was also a way for him to fight the emptiness in his heart and life, to cope with the Beast inside. He was a vampire, and every little shred of humanity was precious.
The design of the game included open groups and groups with secret membership. Marc Laurentes was part of the Hope Foundation, a coterie of like-minded "philanthropists" that, when you looked at the numbers, was about gentrification with a profit. This social dimension reminded me of the plight of dreary and forlorn Gary, Indiana, in 1st edition Vampire: The Masquerade. Full circle, back to the roots of vampire prosperity amid mortal misery! What we did with this basic setup was up to ourselves, and indeed the Hope Foundation did profit from the upheaval. Its members survived, associated themselves with the fall of the Prince and kept at range from the most violent elements. We arranged an alliance with the Ethics Committee. To get a broader sense of how the evening unfolded, check the Nordic larp article by Sarah Lynne Bowman.

So, I had a few questions and Juhanna Pettersson, the designer of the game (one among many persons who conspired to make this event a success) was kind enough to answer them.

Designing the Berlin of Darkness
The events which took place in Enlightenment in Blood give us an insight into the evolution of the World of Darkness setting post-2004. It means you have been implementing and taking part into the design of a broader vision for where the World of Darkness is heading. Indeed, White Wolf told us that events unfolding in this larp may have consequences on the metaplot, that player characters could become part of books, etc. This is one of the first manifestations of a new ethos of grounding the story of the World of Darkness in the actions of the fan communities. Obviously White Wolf needs to find the right balance in how they use the feedback from the larp.

Q: What is your take on this "contributive design" method, was there a lot of back and forth with WW, how much of the design was your own take on things, and how is the feedback phase going along please?

Juhanna Pettersson: Enlightenment in Blood and World of Darkness Berlin were produced by the company Participation Design Agency, and the arrangement was similar as when White Wolf makes license deals with videogame companies for videogames or By Night Studios for Mind Eye Theater -style larp materials.
As the person responsible for the design of Enlightenment in Blood, I had a lot of back and forth with Martin Ericsson and especially Karim Muammar from White Wolf. I found the process very fruitful, especially because this way the new ideas and directions White Wolf is planning for the World of Darkness could be reflected in the larp. When Martin made his presentation about the future direction of Vampire at the Berlin event, you could see almost every single new idea also represented in the larp.
Martin and Karim provided the White Wolf perspective on the content of the larp, but it was also fun and useful to spitball with them about possible ideas, concepts and cool things we could do. In this sense, they also had a creative contribution to the larp's design going beyond just the big ideas affecting every World of Darkness product now coming out.

Social unrest as the main thematic

The larp, in a nutshell, was about the night of the Anarch Revolution. Specifically, I felt that it was about the revolt of a social underclass rather than about a Generation-based Jyhad. There were a character group with a Marxist background, the one-percenters of the Camarilla, a group focusing on gentrification... And you could sense, in game, how many power-hungry groups were just intent on exploiting the demise of the Camarilla for personal gain rather than for any common good. You can sense similar social fault lines in the real world. The gentrification is a real thing in Berlin or in Paris where I live; and the sense of being oppressed by enforcers of the powers that be has sparked conflict in countries such as Tunisia or, more recently, Morocco. There are other important issues of the day, of course (refugees...), but I guess many players of the game could relate to this main thematic of an ignored underclass rising up.

Q: How do you think the larp can help us apprehend or cope with the larger inequalities in the world? Did any player tell you it was a learning experience, or an occasion to vent, to cathartically strike down the Man? Is this issue something you care about, that inspires you?

Personally, I believe that larp can change the world, that it can have a positive effect on the people playing the game. I believe it can be used for political purposes. For example, I was the producer of the Palestinian-Finnish joint larp production Halat hisar (2013 and 2016) which attempted to create an experience of Palestinian political reality.
I don't necessarily see Enlightenment in Blood primarily as a political larp in that sense, but it was definitely informed by what's going on in the real world. White Wolf has used the slogan: "A game of personal and political horror" for Vampire recently, and I felt that idea should also be reflected in the larp. Because of this, supernatural factions where tied to real world political groups and ideologies. The central framework of the revolution in the larp was inspired by the revolution in Iran against the Shah, where the fight for the control of the revolution is at least as important as the revolution itself.

Every problem just needs a kill list

In real life, social change demands involvement on a massive scale, including lots of building common ground and long-term planning; in the context of micro-societies of murderous bloodsuckers, social change merely requires a few murders. With EiB being a one-shot larp and only the last hour being deadly, the survival of the characters was not the main point, in effect encouraging a high level of aggression. After the Anarchs killed the Prince and a few lackeys, the oppressive social structure that revolved around them falls apart. Simple and fun.

Q: Were you happy with the violence? Do you have stats or an educated guess about the numbers of dead characters?

The game had a lot of violence, more than we expected. The combat mechanics were designed so that the ability of a character to fight deteriorated quite fast, so a single character couldn't participate in very many fights. However, we sheer excitement and adrenaline of the revolution more than compensated and created a larp with a lot of fighting.
Unfortunately, we're still working with documenting the larp so I don't have death statistics at this time.

Lights in the darkness

My experience of the game was one of a thrilling evening (I skipped the "angst part" of roleplaying a vampire). Optimism was in the air (next to fear). Why? In part, the cosmopolitan choice of scope vs depth (the crossover touch with the dancing changelings, etc.). Mostly, I think it resulted from the pitch. The writing was on the wall from the very beginning: the Camarilla was going to fall and something new would emerge from the Anarch community. It sounded like a good outcome, a better deal than what I heard some larps can be like and of course than the last few real world revolutions. Perhaps it does just reflect the timing -revolutions are merry the first night, and the follow-up never lives up to the expectations.

Q: Did you purposefully intend for your game to deliver higher concentrations of "change" than the ones found in the real world, and that it would feel liberating? Do you try to design emotions?

We most definitely try to design emotions. I see this as one of the core things we do as larp designers, creating a certain kind of an emotional experience.
We pushed the idea of "the first night of the Anarch revolution" really hard, because we wanted exactly this sense of optimism, chaos and change. It's a powerful feeling, and suitable for a larp lasting for one night. For a more grounded view of revolution, I think we would have needed a different kind of design, with more time for players to experience the changes in the environment.

The Dark Father

Another facet of the Berlin shadow society was imaginary religion. The Church of Caine was one of the main groups and held one of the three largest play spaces. It is a toned-down Sabbat, or a cousin of the Lancea Sanctum covenant from Vampire: The Requiem. Its militancy felt out of sync with dechristianized real world Europe, but vampiric mythology is core to the Masquerade setting and no end times revolution would be complete without a preacher trying to convert everybody and their werewolf cousin. The vampire faith was really creepy (to be honest, the main European religion has faithfuls drinking the blood of their god), to the extent that the Church, from an outsider perspective, looked more like a prison than a haven, with "I am having second thoughts" being one of the patterns, a behaviour kickstarted by the sacrifice-oh-wait-nooo of the Shepherd character played by Martin Ericsson in the starting ceremony.

Q: What are your ideas about religion as a gaming device? What else can you tell us about the genesis of the Church of Caine as an organisation?

Religion is one of the most powerful human concepts present in our culture, so obviously it's also a wonderful subject for a larp. It also often involves rituals and protocols for behavior, something that works very well in larps.
The Church of Caine is one of the new ideas White Wolf is introducing to the World of Darkness, and to my knowledge this larp was the first time it was present in any kind of a World of Darkness product. Because of this, working with the Church was different than working with any other element of the world, because we needed to explain it more, but we also had more freedom to make it into our own thing. I worked closely with White Wolf's Karim Muammar to make the Church interesting, but they also gave us a lot of leeway to make it our own.


My best memory was barking at the Prince in his final moments. Remember your Dogs!
Second one was being afraid to enter the Church, after being first told that it was a haven, and then being told by the same character, after asking him to remember he really really liked me (a magical power), that he was not so sure about the safe part.
Third one was watching Jannes Hoffnung, a fellow Hope Foundation member, suck the blood from the hand of the Prince. It was really funny, the Prince was down and there were maybe ten Brujah-type Anarchs trying to suck him dry, only his hand was visible at this point and here comes this artsy opportunist who takes a bite at one finger.

Q: What is your best memory of the game?

I didn't play, and in fact I was at our backstage organizer room the whole larp. Because of this, my best memory is coming to the afterparty after the larp had ended, and just seeing all the energy people had, the feeling you can sense in a larp crowd of people sharing a common, intense experience.

Future memories
Q: What's next?

We're still evaluating and unpacking the event in Berlin, the con and all the larps. Because of this, I can't reveal future projects now. However, I can say that there are things cooking, with us and with other larp makers as well. Stay tuned!

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: rule-wise, I suggest checking out the playtest impressions on Teylen's RPG Corner; White Wolf tells us that they will publish the quickstarter soon anyway [update: it's available]. 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).
Check out this report

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).

Ready, steady, hurtle down into the future

we have yet to reach peak death, and we have yet to reach peak love
the highway dances into a freefall
smile, Happy, smile
vay 2017