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DARK SHADOWS; `NORMAL' PEOPLE STAKE THEIR CLAIM TO ROLES IN POPULAR INTERACTIVE VAMPIRE GAMES.

Byline: Heesun Wee Daily News Staff Writer

The homeless man molded his modest belongings into a makeshift pillow on a hard bench at Glendale City Hall, improving his view of the odd scene unfolding before him.

Two dozen people, many dressed in business attire, lurked beneath the courtyard's arches. They circled the gurgling fountain. They talked in groups in hushed voices.

Clearly, something was brewing. But what?

A Secret Service gathering? A cult retreat? Politicians run amok?

Nope. Turn your twisted imagination to something more creative. These people call it vampire games. And despite its sinister appearance, it's all quite innocent.

Participants take on guises of vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night. But unlike role-playing board games such as the popular Dungeons & Dragons, live-action vampire games require players to act out their parts.

A Georgia game company, White Wolf Game Studio, introduced vampire games, formally called Masquerade, in 1992. Six years later, vampire games continue to attract a loyal following through clubs, including one based in Pasadena called the Sabbat Live Action Phan Klub.

Killienne Thomas of Pasadena has been a longtime fan of role-playing games and other vampire lore. But the health-care company employee wanted to do more than push a figurine around a game board. She wanted a role-playing game that would further stretch her creative and dramatic abilities - something a little meatier.

Five years ago, Thomas played her first vampire game and has been an active member and leader of the Pasadena club for four years.

``What it boils down to is like an interactive soap opera,'' Thomas said. ``This game happens on the mean streets. But it is a mirror of reality that happens separate from it. ... It's very easy to get lost in it.''

And it's the escapist quality of vampire games that helps lure players like Rob Marley of Baldwin Park. He's a member of one of Masquerade's official clubs, the Los Angeles Camarilla.

``Everybody wants to kind of ignore reality for a while, and this is a great chance to do that,'' said Marley, who works for a satellite broadcasting company.

Late nights

And playing make believe can mean losing track of time when a story line gets particularly juicy. At the Pasadena club's monthly gatherings, usually on a Friday night, a good game often continues until well after midnight.

``You're supposed to stop at 1 (a.m.) or 2 or 3, but people don't want to stop,'' Thomas said.

Late-night game playing can make parents of teen-age players nervous. Linda Grant, a parent in Berkeley, was so worried about her daughter's interest in vampire games that she did some investigating of her own.

``As a parent, I was absolutely appalled. As a writer, I was fascinated,'' said Grant, who went on to write a crime novel about vampire games, ``Vampire Bytes'' (Scribner; $22).

Grant concedes that to uneducated outsiders, vampire games can seem odd. After all, players dress up and go outside in public when it's not Halloween.

But while the Glendale Police Department did not receive any telephone calls inquiring about the games at City Hall, Masquerade players elsewhere have alarmed authorities, crossing the line from game-playing to reality.

In 1996, police in Kentucky blamed the game for inspiring a teen-ager to beat her parents to death with the help of friends. Also two years ago, a Virginia man was convicted of molesting eight young girls after recruiting them to play Masquerade.

But Thomas and Marley stressed their clubs do not promote or tolerate such behavior.

Instead, rules and story lines, painstakingly detailed in Masquerade books, guide players' behavior. And when all the facts get too overwhelming or fuzzy, Thomas and Marley refer to sheets of paper or flash cards, each jammed with notes about characters and plot twists.

And that's usually the extent of characters' props. Unlike the popular ``Buffy the Vampire Slayer,'' there are no stake-wielding characters here.

Although it's just a game, enthusiastic players take their characters seriously. ``We don't want to be seen as a bunch of freaks running around,'' said Marley, who now is playing Frank Gravano. His community thinks he's a mobster, an allegation Gravano - aka Marley - strongly denies.

``You see vampires split into bloodlines or breeds. And each one is a clan that has restrictions. ...'' Marley then stops to interject: ``This sounds really strange talking about this.''

Many vampire clubs can be reached through the Internet. Here's a sampling:

Contact the national Camarilla group through its Web site at http://vampire.tamu.edu/camarilla/index.html.

Visit the Los Angeles Camarilla at its Web site, www.deathsdoor.com/camarilla .

Contact the Sabbat Live Action Phan Klub through its Web site, http://home.earthlink.net/ tilde sabbat, or e-mail the club at sabbatearthlink.net.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1) Under cover of darkness, players rendezvous in a dimly lit Glendale courtyard to swap information.

Shaun Dyer/Special to the Daily News

(2) Vampire-game clubs bring together people - including Paul Lakin, left, and Patrick Thomas - looking for something more than a board game.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 1, 1998
Words:840
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