Ten Things We Learned Attending L.A. By Night: The Grey Ghost Masquerade

By David N. Scott in Daily Lists, Gaming
Monday, September 30, 2013 at 6:00 am


So, the word came out that CCP/Onyx Path/By Night Studios, publishers of World of Darkness, once known simply as White Wolf Publishing (it is complicated, I explain it in #6) was having their annual convention/Grand Masquerade. Now, White Wolf was once located in Stone Mountain, Georgia, which apart from being about the best town name ever is also far away from my home base in Orange County, CA. So although they have done cons before, I have generally heard about them being in places like New Orleans (understandable, given their flagship game is about vampires). However, this year it was right in my backyard, on the massive hotel/boat/museum/place to see Princess Diana stuff for an extra charge known as the Queen Mary. So, perhaps needless to say, we suited up and headed on out. And by suited, I meant I wore a top hat and I had a cane. Which looked cool, but would have been more fun if I were ambidextrous. We returned from our marine adventure with ten things we learned from the long weekend of immersing ourselves in the LA by Night: Grey Ghost Masquerade/World of Darkness annual convention:

First Things First: Booklets and Badges, complete with a Toredor vampire clan stamp

1. The Queen Mary is a Nice Change From a Generic Hotel

One of the best parts of this con was the location, the Queen Mary herself. Though the hotel rooms sold out before we could book one, I still really enjoyed the time on the boat, especially since it happened to be free (usually you pay for admission even for the day). As a great side bonus, it is attached to the dock in such a way that it doesn't move, which is great since I would have been ungodly seasick playing horror games for 12 hour binges in the bottom of a swaying boat.

Julie Scott
Beautiful, ain't she?

Now, I could tell that the Queen Mary area has seen better days. The escalators all seemed to be broken, and there was an entire tourist "village" that was completely abandoned, though eerily well kept up. Things creaked quite a bit, especially when we were walking in groups, and there were just odd noises here and there. Also. the paint just looked thin in some of the boat's more obscure areas. Of course, it should be noted that the QM is almost 80 years old, and when 80 years old you reach, look so good you will not.

Anyway, the word of the day is ambiance. Or ambidextrous maybe. Being two-handed is awesome. But either way, this ship is quite old, and everything you look at or experience on-board shows it, especially the wood flooring and walls. Just walking around the hallways gave me the feeling that we were on an ocean cruise, which is considerably more interesting than most feelings I have walking in hallways. Actually, to be honest, I kept feeling like I was on the Titanic, which was a cool feeling until I remembered what happened to the Titanic. Although the boat doesn't move you can get up on the deck and the harbor is beautiful, especially being able to see the Shoreline Village area. (Which is not the creepily abandoned village; this one is quite nice and home to my favorite hat shop.)

2. Is The Queen Mary Haunted?

The scariest part of the Queen Mary was probably the elevators, which seem to be at about half the size I am used to. Ironic in some ways with the whole luxury cruise ship turned carrier of soldiers angle, but I guess people are bigger than they used to be. To be fair, there was a graduating tier of elevator disturbance. First, there were normal elevators that were actually outside the boat but you could take a walkway in. These were normal. Then, the main hotel elevators, which were elegant but undersized, and had a slight delay in responding that was just long enough to make me think that it had died on us over and over again until I just started avoiding it. The worst elevator, though, was a cargo elevator. It was unlabeled. so in fairness it might not have been meant for tourists anyway. But it was tiny, slow and, as a friend of mine felt compelled to point out, had no escape panel on top. Which, being as we were technically underwater at that point, was mildly terrifying.

But as far as ghosts (Ghosts!) well... I didn't see any. The place was positively ancient by American standards, and also had a lot of history to it, such as the anti-aircraft battery on the deck with the elegant ballroom. This did lead to a touch of the "you can imagine them being here" effect, which can put one into the ghost hunting mindset. However, when we were there the place was stuffed with role-players and laughter, which tends to keep the really creepy feelings at bay. That said, I can tell you one of the Storytellers did claim to have taken a picture of a stairwell where you could "see something", presumably unnatural. Nothing really juicy like a shadowy figure with no eyes or Casper or anything, just some weird shape. But hey, take what you can get. Take it!

Or you could watch this video about the apparently controversial Ghosthunters episode.

3. The Succubus Club Deserves Its Reputation

Julie Scott

The Succubus Club is famous among a small set of people, as it has been a feature of many a World of Darkness convention. This was my first Succubus Club, and I enjoyed the hell out of it (Zing!). Justin Achilli, a writer of some minor fame, was the DJ, and his tastes generally gelled with mine, so I would consider him good. Voltaire also performed. He has apparently reinvented himself (again) as a goth pirate who sings humorous sea shanties with a little goth-guitar. Unfortunately, I had been enjoying the dance floor and spending time with friends, so I did not really get into the vampirate thing. I think it was just me as a lot of people really got into it and generally Voltaire is awesome. To be honest, I was a little tired after an 11-hour marathon session of games, panels about games, and running games, with basically no breaks. Sort of like game-jail. Which is probably a thing in Norway and probably results in better prisoner integration back into society than the U.S. System. But that's neither here nor there.
Dead Gamers Society (Louis Garcia)
What is a "Vampirate", you ask? Well, this is. Complete with rum bottle!

All of the dancing and vampirates and all that were secondary, though. Why? Well, first of all without segueing too much back to number one let me say that the Queen Mary has an incredibly awesome ball room. I think it was one of my favorite rooms ever. Also, even more importantly, there was an open bar! The booze was free! Without cost! Now, I have been to a few open bar parties in my life, usually for work, but you can never have too many. This one was basically just a little extra thank you for being a fan. ($20 admission counts as a thank you with free liquor, right?) Staff (like me) got in free, which was also nice. (Well, free in exchange for running game tables, but I've never gotten free booze at any other con.) Basically, the words of the day are free and liquor. Though ambidexterity would be handy again here. TWO FISTED DRINKING!

4. LARPers Hate The Sun

This is more of an important note than a funny anecdote, but if you ever make it out to one of these things, you should really be aware that it is almost completely dead until nighttime. Either that or vampire players are just that good at hiding. We tabletop gamers pretty much had the whole place to ourselves during daylight hours. It was like a ghost town one minute, and then after the sun dropped down there were people in costume everywhere. The wife and I, on the other hand, made the mistake of going in costume the whole time. Which, I suppose, is sort of tough to avoid when you did not get a hotel room. Not many easy ways to carry a top hat and a nice jacket to pop into at a moment's notice. Unless you are a superhero, I guess. GOTHMAN!

Julie Scott
As an example, this is the tabletop area around lunch time.

Julie Scott
And this is the tabletop area around 8pm. (And it was really that dark, too.)

5. Geek Off! LARPers VS Tabletop Players

Well, this observation will probably get me in trouble with someone, but it was interesting to note the differences between table top players and LARP players. If you are not clear on the difference, both groups play role playing games, but LARP players play Live Action Role Playing games. Which is to say you dress up as your character, you talk like your character, and all of that fun stuff. There are still rules, so it is not quite improv theater, but generally the rules are light enough to allow more play on the go.

So on one hand, both categories are basically the same thing to an outside observer. On the other hand, like many geeky things, the tiny differences separate the groups just enough that they both occasionally look down on each other. LARPers can get a bad reputation among table toppers as people who live in character all the time and never let things go, presumably because the character / player relationship is much fuzzier than in a traditional RPG where your character is a sheet covered in numbers and a little statue. On the other hand, I must say that LARPing takes a lot more commitment and work than table top does. We table toppers rolled up to our tables, spread out our books, and get to playing. We did not have to put on elaborate costumes, makeup, anything. We were a bit older too, as I have said before the convention tabletop crowd tends to have kids and spouses, at least in my experience. The LARPers, in contrast were decked out in some really cool costumes, and I have to admit they were generically more attractive as well, or at least the ones I noticed were. They also seemed younger and a little hipper, or maybe that was the costumes. (Judge for yourself here.)

Or watch this video.

Regardless of which group was more objectively awesome, it did seem that the con was more geared towards the LARPers, as they had many more events, with way more attendees. Also, our table top area was mostly in what we dubbed "steerage", an area of the ship so far removed you had to clamber through a fence, and then wander down three flights of stairs.

Julie Scott
On the upside, we got an unintentional sneak peek at the Dark Harbor set up.

Meanwhile, the LARPers seemed to frolic in the main areas of the ship. Our worlds collided when a LARP wedding (yes, a LARP wedding) encroached on the con, causing us all to share space until the late night games retreated into the hotel lobby. This is probably because there seemed to be about a 10:1 ratio of LARPers to table-toppers. All in all I did not mind so much. I actually enjoyed the costumes and admired their apparent close-knit community. It made me want to lose some weight and represent, dammit.

Julie Scott
My attempt to fit in with the LARP crowd. It actually worked pretty well.

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