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Reality Sucks

Supernatural power brokers in San Jose? Biter bites.


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If every cigarette you smoke takes seven minutes off your life, every game of Dungeons & Dragons you play delays the loss of your virginity by seven hours.
--Marilyn Manson

MAYBE IT'S the state of the world these days that pushes more and more people toward fantasy. The most extreme of these escapists have always been the live-action role players--those freaks and geeks for whom fantasy is an immersion experience--and if a recent Saturday gathering at South First Street's Wine Galleria is any indication, a small revival is in the works.

About a dozen gamers sat around a conference table overlooking the Galleria's main room. Pharos Myst, Silicon Valley's chapter (CA-013) of the Camarilla Club, was hosting a Vampire LARP (Live Action Role Play). Unlike traditional role-playing games, in which you use a pen, paper and your imagination, in a LARP you walk around--usually in a costume--and interact with the other players. It's like improvisational acting. The Camarilla Club bases its role-playing on fantasy/horror/supernatural books published by White Wolf Publishing, which means Pharos Myst members can choose identities from vampires, magi, werewolves, ghosts, changelings, fairies, gnomes and, in some cases, human beings. Conspiracies abound, power struggles ensue and drama fluctuates, all at the narrative control of the players.

Unfortunately, though, no one's wearing a vampire costume.

Instead, the Pharos Myst "vampire recruitment game" included about 20 men and two women, one wearing a black silk scarf over her face. The wine was flowing.

"If someone dropped a bomb in this room," one character stated, "it would bring the evilness of the city down by 200 percent."

"Guilt requires association," another one replied.

"Residents of San Jose, what do you wish of the candidate?"

"Mr. Black, everyone is after something here."

One character at the head of the table, clad in dark sunglasses, typed something on his laptop and then turned defiantly around in his chair. He stared out the window at the Wine Galleria below. Others dispersed into the art gallery to hold private discussions about their own domains.

According to the premise of the game, "Assassinations and political intrigue has [sic] threatened the Alliance of Northern California. A new breed of vampire hunters, a group after the thrill of going after nature's greatest predators, has threatened San Francisco and the peninsula, and rumors have them heading south. A religious cult in Gilroy has slowly made its presence known in the wake of a spiritual glut in the area."

If such supernatural political alliances don't make much sense to you, you don't know Prince Henry Dragoon, the Mysterious Mr. Tchan, Philip Black, Ashok Chandrasechar and Hercule. These are a few of the characters gathered at the Galleria. Stranger still, the whole thing looks real, and it's difficult to tell who the heck these people might be in "real life." Biter has to wonder if any of them actually understand the concept of real life.

"We're role-playing gamers, not Satanists," one participant defends himself.

"What I see as the potential for live action is the very theatrical nature of it," says John Osborne, chapter coordinator of Pharos Myst, "and the fact that it exists as an unwritten fictional fantasy ... with people interested in playing characters rather than a game."

Always looking for new recruits, Pharos Myst plans to hold more of these games in the near future, but you must play by the rules. According to the code of conduct, "Members may not drink blood or discuss the reality drinking of blood while participating in a Camarilla event." Bummer.

Gamed out after about half an hour, Biter departed ever so stealthily, escaping down the stairs while two participants disputed power vacuums in the regime.

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From the April 10-16, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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