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


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.

6. Onyx Path Has Big Plans For 2014

Until this con, I did not really understand the strange permutations of what happened with the White Wolf brand since the 1990s. Here is the nutshell version, as I understand it: White Wolf Publishing merged with a MMO (Massively Multi-player Online) company (CCP), presumably because they wanted the Vampire: The Masquerade name for an MMO (as there have been some successful video games in the past). They kept up the core business for a while, but things got a little sporadic, and they moved towards becoming a PDF company. Somewhere along the way Richard Thomas, who goes back ages and ages with the brand, started a company, Onyx Path, that now has the rights from White Wolf and is publishing books. Meanwhile, By Night Studios manages the LARP version. So, it’s a little split up these days.

Julie Scott
Richard Thomas explains THE FUTURE. Or at least the 2014 release schedule.

In the Onyx Path panel about 2014, they announced the revival of multiple game lines, intending to make a big splash. Clearly they are intending to prove that they can produce as much now as they ever have. For the most part, there are some terrific looking books on the horizon, including more 20th anniversary editions of the original settings. That said, I have been a fan of enough small publishers to know that this sort of thing can crash and burn. Palladium Books intended to re-launch their game lines with a massive super-crossover book series called the Minion war. I just checked their website and the final book is available on pre-order. Fair enough, right? Well, the first book came out in 2006. So it was a seven year re-launch.

I do not think Onyx Path will go down the same road as they have some very experienced developers, and they are not owned by Kevin Sembeida, who has a very mixed reputation. But I am not sure I totally buy in on the schedule. Of course, to be fair, Richard Thomas himself said multiple times in the presentation that every date was a goal and not a promise. So I think they are on my wavelength, at least a little. Anyway, color me cautiously optimistic. Although I am jaded, I am excited to see that the schedule has so much verve in the first place. Bully!

7. The Vendor Room Was Very Small

Like, tiny. The wife and I did find things to buy, but I was surprised to find only a handful of vendors in a space roughly as big as my bedroom. My own purchase is a bit hard to describe, a pendant made of interlocking stones but with a smooth face, made to look like gears. Allegedly, the stones contained helpful spirits. That was not a big factor in my decision, as I purchased it because it matched my outfit, but my thought is that if the magic spirit part has no additional charge it can only be an upside.

The vendor took my politely nodding at his descriptions as some sort of affirmation of something, and I ended up being given a free psychic reading. That was mostly interesting. I was told by the spirits, via the psychic, to eat more pro-biotic yogurts and to be careful of my digestion, which I think means that the spirits were calling me fat. Which probably explains why they are invisible, as otherwise insulting people would end in a pummeling. They also told me to pick up crystals to keep negativity away, which honestly I would probably try if you handed me one, but gave me no tips on how to get any. Fortunately, sugar is a crystal and I get plenty of that.

Julie Scott
Inhabited by spirits overly concerned about my digestive system? I’ll let you decide.

Anyway, it was an interesting experience, and the whole thing threw me off enough that I ended up not getting any pictures of the walk-in closet / vendor room. In another LARP / table topper divide, most items were costume oriented despite the fact that The War House, a venerable old gaming store who brings a booth to the LA cons every time, is literally about 10 minutes from the Queen Mary. (I stopped there on the way in one day.) Although, when I think about it, since Onyx Path is going POD / PDF and Drive Thru RPG exclusive content, maybe they just want you to get the books online now.

8. Yes, There Will Be More Kickstarters!

Now, I’m not sure about the rest of you, my hopefully vast and sexy audience, but I have been spending some time on Kickstarter as of late. In fact, this year I have sunk a figure measured in the triple digits into the darn things. Kickstarters can be super fun, like the Fairytale Games Kickstarter, wherein I get more minis the more random people in the iInternet add into the pot! Every day I check it and see what new ones have now been created. It is super fun.

Thing is, though, it should be fun. Why? Because the damn things will not darken my doorstep for at least another year. Of the things I have spent my triple digits on, so far I have one partial delivery with the rest still pending. I think Kickstarter projects make sense for Onyx Path, since they are getting towards POD, which does not necessarily work with the big and deluxe releases. But I also think people need to be very clear that, as Richard Thomas said in the panel, the Kickstarter is entirely separate from the main book release. As in, a fun extra, not a pre-order. These are the cool editions to sit on your shelf and look pretty. (Want to see the Kickstarter schedule? Click here.)

I learned this the hard way with the Mummy Kickstarter. I ordered a deluxe edition with the thought I would get it early. Instead, the POD version was posted ages ago, and my benefit will be just having a really beautiful version of the book. I would have been better off with a small pledge and buying the book as soon as the regular version was available. No one misled me or anything, but I think sometimes the lines can blur for Kickstarters everywhere and people need to know what they are getting into.

All of that aside, I was shocked when I met the company owner for the first time and realized he was also directly involved with the Kickstarters. Richard Thomas was super nice and seems genuinely interested in connecting with the fans. I felt a bit abashed about a grouchy comment I left on the Mummy Kickstarter about book delays. Sort of like if you called the complaint line for McDonald’s and Ronald answered personally. Then you felt bad because he was your friend with big red shoes. Or some other example that makes more sense.

9. The Wrecking Crew

In a series of events that is complicated and dorky, I am an organizer for a World of Darkness fan/gaming group (the Dead Gamers Society) in Southern California (home of the Queen Mary). But Onyx Path already has their own go to demo group named the Wrecking Crew. The do cool things like demos at Gen Con. At first the Wrecking Crew was announced as the people hosting all the games. The leader of our club said he was going to talk to the convention and ask for game slots. Time went by, my attention span failed me. We got game slots and showed up to run. Was the Wrecking Crew going to look down on us as provincials? Would we all get territorial and have dance offs? No! They were cool guys and ran some great games and played some of ours. We all plan to see each other at the next con and there was much Facebook friending. The end.

Also, they have a cool logo.

10. Demon: The Descent Demo

How metal is this cover?

I played this. It was awesome. You should probably download the quick start guide. It is a free download, or if you are like me and like to read these things in your “contemplation room,” the hard copy is $5. I think you probably have to do that to make any sense of it. But I will try. Ahem. Basically, the god of World of Darkness these days is a gigantic super machine called the God Machine (as discussed in our previous article). It acts in ways that are not understandable by mortals and generally mucks around with things. It has bio-mechanical servants that are, logically, called angels, but unlike the halo-wearers we are used to they have a strange robotic edge to them. Since the God Machine is not necessarily good or even all that interested in humans, demons aren’t evil, but they do escape the will of the God Machine to do their own stuff like classic demons. Then it gets weird since they are mechanical, but pretending to be human and hiding from the God Machine. Sort of Paradise Lost meets the The Matrix, with just a bit of a mecha battle flavor when demons throw down and go full form on each other. Loved it, and it is so far the only World of Darkness book I know of with plasma drives, which make everything better. Except maybe zombies because they’d be too goddamn fast, and the humans would have no hope. But then again, at least they would be scary.

Previously by David N. Scott:

Five Games Masters and Players You See at Every RPG Con

Eight Reasons You Should Care About the World of Darkness Reboots