Anatomy of a LARP Prop
January 24, 2023 Jamey Alea 0 Comments
Recently, I shared my experience at Saturnalia, a blockbuster LARP that was held this past November in New Orleans, but one aspect of it that I wanted to talk about further was prop and costume making, which I really invested in for this event. There’s one costume piece in particular that I worked on for Saturnalia that is particularly dear to my heart, and I think particularly captures how special LARP props can be and how much history and environmental storytelling they can carry. So let me tell you about it!
Saturnalia was originally meant to correspond with the release of the newest VTM book, War of Ages, the first LARP-centric book in 5th edition. Unfortunately, the book was delayed and hasn’t come out yet, but I’m very excited about it because it is slated to make my longtime character’s bloodline canon! (Owen is wildly important to me and he has a big presence in my life, I’ve written about him here before, and I will be so excited to share more about his presence in the new book once I’m allowed to!) But naturally, I had to play a character from Owen’s bloodline at Saturnalia.
Enter one of Owen’s childer, Leslie Flores-Alea—a twentysomething punk who used to be an employee at Owen’s movie theater, but is now traveling the country on their own for the first time, trying to collect some cool and badass experiences like all their anarch friends tell stories about. Leslie’s connection to Owen makes it particularly fun for me to work on props and costumes for them, because Owen’s family has a lot of history, which means I can make my props have a lot of history too.
Hang onto your seat, because I’m about to get extremely dorky about my vamp characters. Ultimately, the stories about them are just meant to illustrate how personalized props can be to your roleplaying experience and the story you’re trying to tell! But I hope you’ll find my characters interesting anyway, haha.
So, Owen is a member of a coterie called the “Brujah Tank Crew,” a loose organization of enthusiasts of armored vehicles and adventure, who practice military drills and combat training together. Then when someone needs to call in the Big Guns, they show up with their borrowed surplus tanks and cause absolute mayhem. The BTC is extremely fun to play with, and Owen’s BTC army jacket is one of his prized possessions. I liked it so much that even though I didn’t have intentions to play Owen in a live-action format, I made a reproduction of the jacket just for me to wear, and now it is one of my prized possessions.
I picked out an oversized camo jacket from my local military surplus store and started adding patches to it. The main thing about all the BTC jackets is the main back patch should be a BTC logo… which didn’t actually exist, haha. I had a rocker patch made that said “Brujah Tank Crew” and paired it up with the Brujah clan logo and a tank. Owen’s jacket also had a series of patches based on specific things that he’d done over the course of our old game, which I added on the back of the jacket, across the bottom. I also added a military-style name tape with Owen’s original (unmarried) last name, Liakos.
So suddenly I had this physical jacket in my life that was explicitly Owen’s jacket, and that was pretty cool for me, that I was able to take an object that only existed in my mind and make it exist in the real world and be able to wear it!
But then I signed up for Saturnalia to play Leslie, and I found myself at a bit of a (self-imposed) impasse. Because Leslie is also in the BTC, but I had made Owen’s jacket. And this is where I started doing 4-D chess, because even though it would look the same to everyone else, I needed to know for myself why Leslie would be wearing Owen’s jacket. The answer I came up with actually ended up leading to some interesting story in our game: Leslie had just left home for the first time and wasn’t willing to admit that they were struggling with some homesickness, which led them to take Owen’s jacket instead of their own when they left to have a more tangible connection to their family at home. Since then, the jacket has changed hands a couple times, with both sire and childe lowkey trying to take possession of it each time they see each other.
This addition to the story of the jacket made it feel more like a real object with real history. It also allowed me to continue making modifications to it, letting it physically reflect that history, like a real object would.
So I started thinking about what modifications Leslie would make to the jacket once it was in their custody. The first thing I did was add another military-style name tape with Leslie’s last name on the other side and a nonbinary flag on the sleeve. Then I started slowly adding more patches in real time as Leslie made accomplishments in our game. Leslie wins a chariot race? Leslie fights a werewolf and acquires its skull as a trophy? Obvious fodder for cool patches. Leslie joins a new tarot-themed coterie where everyone uses a tarot card as their nickname? Clearly I have to slap a Temperance patch on there, and I screenprinted patches with our coterie symbol, which also made great gifts for my coterie-mates at Saturnalia. (Yes, I’m very extra.)
And that’s pretty much where the jacket stands today! Although one of the things I like about it is that it’s a “living prop,” because I expect to keep adding to it as it Leslie and Owen continue to get up to hijinks in our games. (I also have a silver bullet that was a prop in one of Leslie’s adventures that I have been trying to figure out how to attach as a zipper pull, haha.)
Ultimately, I realize this is a long story just about adding patches and some pins to a used jacket. What I did wasn’t especially skilled—although I do think it was very creative! A well thought out prop can be an extremely powerful tool for storytelling, reflecting a rich in-game history in a completely immersive way, because you can interact with it the same way you’d interact with a real person wearing a piece of interesting clothing that clearly has a history behind it. “What does this symbol mean? Where are these patches from?” It fosters connections between characters and makes the story feel real. It fosters connections between real people, when they ask about my jacket and I get to tell them about Saturnalia! And I get to wear this piece of my characters’ history right on my back and it even keeps me warm through the cold Buffalo winters. Pretty cool if you ask me!