Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Birmingham Underground Part 2

by M. David Hornbuckle

Birmingham is rife with subcultures that fly under the radar of most people. In this series, the Birmingham Free Press pulls the lid off this underground world and lets you take a peek inside.

Birmingham By Night

Photo by Lachlan Donald

LARP stands for Live Action Role Play. This is sort of a cross between the Society for Creative Anachronism and Dungeons & Dragons. Participants describe it as a kind of improvisational theater with a strategy game element to it. Larping has been around since the 1970s, but it’s had a resurgence in recent years that coincides with the increasing popularity of vampire, werewolf, and zombie stories in popular culture. 

Like D&D, Larps are often based on published games that are customized by a “storyteller” to the particular setting where they will be played. For example, Birmingham by Night is a larp based on the World of Darkness, a fictional universe created by White Wolf Gaming Studio, but the head storyteller James Strader has developed this game so that the city of Birmingham plays an integral role. Strader says, “Birmingham by Night is set up as a political game. Characters use all types of political maneuvering to gain power and control while other players become pawns either willingly or unwillingly to those characters who can ‘work the system’ all the while keeping their supernatural existence from being discovered by normal human beings…We used some real life facts to explain things about the supernatuals of Birmingham like the Yielding family and the McWanes.”

Some local larps like Magic City Nightmares charge fees to play. By contrast, Birmingham by Night is free, although you do still need to buy some books to understand the complexity of the characters you will play and play against. Strader says, “We have the support of Legion; the owner Paul Stewart does not charge us to play there, which is awesome. I have been running larps for a very long time. It is a passion of mine, and I feel that a free game attracts more players and a lot of first time players who would be hesitant because of a pay for play issue. My opinion I guess would be that the books you will need are expensive enough so why add an expense? My goal is to see people have fun and not have to sit at a computer to do it.”

Birmingham by Night:
Magic City Nightmares:
Dragon’s Blaze:

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