It’s time for another look back at the early history of the White Wolf fan organization, The Camarilla. Last time I wrote about the circumstances of its birth as I remember them. This time I want to look at a very specific event, the first Camarilla convention, Courageous/NercoCon.
Again, this is going to be based on my memories of events from over 20 years ago, with as much verification as I have been able to get from other people who were there. I am also going to liberally reference events from my previous Camarilla article, so I recommend going here to read that if you have not already.
I want to specify that this is not about any other Camarilla events, such as the kickoff event at Vikingcon, or any of the other early sanctioned events at various Northwest conventions. This is about the first convention that had a Camarilla focus.
The convention started life as just Courageous Con, named after the chapter of STARFLEET International that I was a member of. As this implies, it was to be a Star Trek convention. The head of our chapter had run successful conventions in Canada and wanted to start one in the Seattle area after moving here. This is all well and good.
However, during the time that the convention was being planned, The Camarilla was coming into being. As I said last time a good number of the original board of directors for the Camarilla were also officers in the Courageous. These same people were also involved in putting together Courageous Con.
So let’s just say enthusiasm over multiple projects started bleeding into each other.
Basically the idea started forming to have a Camarilla convention, but a lot of us were already working on Courageous Con. The solution was to combine the two and have a two–in-one convention. But how would you pull that off?
The answer was to run 24 hour programming.
You read that last sentence right.
Twenty-four hour convention programming. During the daytime hours it would be Courageous Con, and be devoted to Star Trek. At night it would be NecroCon, and be devoted to Vampire and the Camarilla.
I’m pretty sure that I am the first person who started referring to it as the Wereconvention, since it would transform after dark.
So we had to come up with 24 hours’ worth of programming, as well as guests for both genres. It turns out the programming wasn’t as hard, since both were different enough. The trick was getting panelists who were willing to stay up late for the NecroCon side, but even that wasn’t that daunting.
As for guests, we actually did pretty well. For Star Trek we secured George Takei, and for Vampire we had Mark Rein*Hagan and Wes Harris from White Wolf.
Everything looked like it was going well. But frankly, I would not be taking the time to write this down if that was how it ended.
The first hurdle came a couple of months before the convention. George Takei had to pull out of the con. George, like almost all Star Trek actors, had a contract with a company that put on Star Trek conventions around the country. The nature of that contract obligated him to go to a convention they were setting up and cancel his appearance at ours. The kicker is that this last minute convention was being held in Seattle, at a hotel only ten minutes away from where we were holding our con, on the exact same weekend.
Yeah, you are probably thinking the same thing I was, but I have no proof.
So there was a scramble to find a replacement Star Trek guest. The new guest ended up being Jonathan Del Arco. These days, you might know him as Dr. Morales from The Closer and its spin off Major Crimes. Back in 1993, he was best known as Hugh the Borg, from Star Trek: the Next Generation.
So we lost the Major Guest and had a competing convention down the road. But we still had the draw of the White Wolf guys, and the Camarilla was up and running at this point, and growing in popularity. So we were going to be fine.
Ok, let’s be honest, this was a pretty ambitious plan, running programming continuously for an entire weekend. Add to that the fact that it was the first time running a convention for a lot of the organizers.
And with that in mind, looking back I can honestly say, it could have been much worse.
When I think back on Courageous/ NercoCon, the first thing that comes to mind is why did the hotel think it was a good idea to book a Star Trek/ Vampire convention the same weekend they were also hosting a gathering of nuns? Not that this caused any real conflict, or led to any problems, it just added to an overall feeling of oddness that permeated the hotel the whole weekend. Okay, there was the one instance where someone who had over indulged saw them and yelled out “penguins!” Fortunately he was prevented from approaching them, and was carted off by friends quickly.
One problem that was just beyond anyone’s control was that the volunteer coordinator came down with the flu and was running a decent fever. This was on top of the lack of sleep we were all already operating under.
The biggest problem was just attendee behavior. To this day I am not sure what the hell was up with this. I have been to some rowdy conventions before, but there was just something in the air at this one, and all evidence points to it being the vampire fans at the heart of it.
First was just out and out damage to the hotel. There was a hole in one of the walls, which who knows, it could have been anyone on that. The graffiti on the walls on the other hand was pretty clearly put there by someone into Vampire.
But really it was the beer slip-and-slide on the 3rd floor that really took the cake. The hole and the graffiti could have been the result of spur of the moment passion or alcohol-fueled bad decision making. On the other hand, someone had to bring the slip and slide to the con, indicating a degree of premeditation. It was also dealt with pretty quickly and quietly, as the perpetrators managed to convince the hotel not to kick them, and basically the convention, out. I’m sure it being 3 AM on Sunday helped, as by this point the hotel was already fed up with us, so they just wanted to get it over with without any added drama. I didn’t even know that this had happened until a month later. The convention chairman didn’t know about it until last month when I went online to confirm details for this article and someone who was there confirmed it.
Needless to say, in light of these events, the convention was a one-time only thing.
But I don’t want to leave you with the idea that it was all bad.
Jonathan Del Arco turned out to be a very engaging guest and everyone who interacted with him really like him. Likewise Mark Rein*Hagan and Wes Harris had a great time hanging out with the Camarilla crowd and the LARP with them went extremely well. I will always cherish the look on Mark’s face when I led the Camarilla members in a rendition of the It’s a Small World After All parody I had written for the World of Darkness. It was a fascinating combination of pride and shame.
For me personally it was the first time I met the White Wolf guys, who in turn introduced me to the Wizards of the Coast crew. Within a week of the convention I started hanging out at the WotC offices at their invite, leading to my 5 year stint working there. That in turn led to my current job and, really, my life in general now.
I think looking back on it that the two-in-one convention was just too much. What we should have done was drop the Star Trek part after losing Takei and just focused on Vampire. We had a competing Trek convention down the road that siphoned off most of that audience anyway. If we had done that we would have had tighter focus, and I believe less chaos.
So that was the first Camarilla convention. There was not another specific Camarilla Con during the rest of the time the Board of Directors was located in Seattle. After the BoD was transferred to Salt Lake City it was attempted again, this time with a proper focus. Since then there have been many Camarilla Cons, and some of them have had memorable stories, such as the time they were in the same hotel as a Players ball, and a drive by shooting (for info on that check out this video). But none were as out there in concept as Courageous/ NecroCon.
As with my previous Camarilla story, if anyone from the original Board of Directors, or the Courageous/ NecroCon staff want to write their point of view of what happened, I will publish it here unedited.
The Camarilla, oh what a strange history I have with thee. I claim as part of my geek cred that I am one of the founders of the Camarilla. Seeing as we are into the Halloween season now, it seems like as good a time as any to explain that.
For those not in the know, the Camarilla is a fan organization based on White Wolf’s Vampire role-playing game that came out in 1991. So how did a role-playing game end up with an international fan organization? Let me give you my eye witness account, my personal journey if you will. I’m going to use Vampire game terms liberally. I’m not going to take the time to explain them, I figure most of you can use Wikipedia.
Oh and in case there is some confusion, events in the last couple of years required them to change the official name of the organization to the Mind’s Eye Society. Since I’m talking about from further back I am just going to call it the Camarilla.
Within 6 months of the game’s release a good friend of mine named Matthew Burke informed me that he had been talking with a co-worker of his named Jana Wright and they had decided that they were going to form the official fan club, and wanted to know if I was willing to help. I was a fan of the game, having both played and run a few games since its release. Sure, I was in.
Now I want to back track here a bit. I think it is worth going over how I knew Matt and how that informed how the Camarilla was formed.
Matt and I met in a Star Trek fan club.
You see there is this really big fan club called STARFLEET International (Apparently the all caps thing is required). It’s the big Star Trek fan club with branches all over the world. The structure of the club was that all chapters were designated as ships and would be named after whatever they called their ship. This also played into a role-playing element as members of the club would have Star Trek universe persona’s and the clubs officials would also have ranks like Captain, First officer, Chief Medical officer, etc. When a chapter was just starting out it would be called a shuttle and would need an existing ship to be its sponsor until it was cleared to full ship status. Trust me this will become relevant.
So our little Star Trek club was called the USS Courageous, which quickly became the main chapter in the Seattle area. I was the Chief Medical Officer, which in real life meant I was in-charge of organizing club social events. Matt joined and became Helmsman, which if I remember meant he helped with club operations. We became friends pretty quickly and hung out a lot. And before you ask, yes we had costumes, and no I do not still have mine. If there are pictures I do not know where they are, or I would be posting them here right now.
I have no shame.
So anyway back to the Camarilla. The original group that came together to get this club off the ground was a mix of officers from the Courageous and friends of Jana, many of whom were from the Goth community. Matt had reached out to White Wolf and they were more than happy to let us form an official club for their game.
So how do you go about creating a fan organization? To Matt’s credit he had an amazingly simple plan, don’t reinvent the wheel. Many of us were part of a successful fan organization based on an existing property, so why not follow their lead.
And by follow their lead I mean take their membership materials and replace all Star Trek references with vampire ones.
I’m serious; there was some confusion on some early members’ part when they asked why there was a reference to a ship in a couple of places in their membership materials.
Chapters were called Houses, and probationary Houses were called coteries and would need an existing House to be its sponsor until it was cleared to full House status. In case you were wondering, I did copy and paste part of that last sentence.
So yes, the Camarilla is the most successful off shoot of STARFLEET International. Yes we beat out the Klingon Empire and the Terran Empire.
Matt’s plan was that the Camarilla would be a club that did fundraising and public service, just like STARFLEET did as well as the role-playing aspect. One small problem with that plan, when you base a fan club on a role-playing game guess what the members are going to be most interested in. Hint, it’s not volunteering for an adopt-a-highway program.
So gaming, specifically live action role-playing or LARPing, was clearly the heart of the organization. The great strength of the Camarilla was the worldwide chronicle where in-game events happening to us in Seattle was in canon with in-game events happening in Chicago and London. We started with a home-brewed gaming system based on Vampire the Masquerade, but quickly moved over to Mind’s Eye Theater once White Wolf released it.
It’s at this point I want to talk about the board of directors. In game they were the Inner Circle of the Camarilla and were amongst the oldest and most powerful vampires in the in-game world. My good friend Matt as Club President was the Patriarch of the Inner Circle Dorian Strack, who was also Prince of Seattle. At first I was not on the board. I was serving as Matt’s assistant and special advisor to the board. Also I was working with Matt on an idea to also produce a Vampire comic book to propose to White Wolf.
My Character was Caliban, a Gangrel and one of Dorian’s enforcers. Yes, this is where I got the name from. Why Caliban? Clearly the Shakespeare reference as Caliban saw himself as a beast but could also be intelligent. Also Matt took the name Dorian, which was what I was going to use, but he was the boss.
So part of the idea was that each board member was also the representative of their clan on the Inner Circle. Why is this important? Not long after the official kickoff event for the Camarilla, but right before we open up membership, the board member in charge of the organization newsletter just up and disappeared. We literally lost contact with him. To this day I have no idea what happened to him. As I majored in journalism in college it was natural to make me his replacement. However this meant I had to retcon Caliban into a Brujha.
So the Camarilla was off and running. And it was met with a lot of initial success. People really liked the game and so it was easy to generate interest, particularly at conventions. The Board of Directors learned a lot during that time about what was needed to run a quickly growing organization. I would say that we did fairly well. However there were some challenges. Some people found that it was more stress then they had counted on and left. Others were lured away by a more daunting challenge, a career.
When Matt contacted White Wolf about forming the Camarilla he was informed that one of the people that worked on the original game was working in the Seattle are, Lisa Stevens. Lisa had come to the area to work for Wizards of the Coast. Matt contacted her and she started attending Board of Director meetings. Lisa also invited members of the Board to visit WotC as they had open staff meetings at the time. This was almost about nine months to a year before the release of Magic: The Gathering so it was still a small company running out of Peter Adkison’s basement. A few of us went, but I was really the only one who started going to these meetings regularly, and I even started helping out on projects there.
Eventually the summer of 1993 rolled around and with it the release of Magic: The Gathering. WotC had a spare airplane ticket, and so they took me with them to GenCon that year and based on the massive response to the game Peter hired me full time at the convention.
So suddenly I am working for a game company that is growing rapidly. This did not leave a lot of spare time and within a couple of months I officially left the Board due to time constraints. I’d like to point out that I had only left the board; I was still a Camarilla member and got to keep using Caliban as my character.
If it had just been me that might have been one thing, but due to WotC’s growth they needed more people and since there were strong connections between WotC and the Camarilla board several other board members, Including Matt and Jana, were hired over the next several months. Some of the board members felt the same time management issues I did and decided to also step away from the board, but like me were still active in the organization as members. A couple balanced both; how they did this I have no idea.
Due to this eventually it was decided that a whole new board was needed. I was not involved in these decisions so I don’t know how it came to pass, but it was decided that the Camarilla group in Salt Lake City was to take over the duties as Board of Directors. At this point any knowledge I have about how the Camarilla was run would be third hand at best.
I did stay an active member more or less until about 2004. I won’t go into why I left other than to say it was a combination of burn out and some personal issues.
So how do I feel about my time with the Camarilla? Nostalgic I suppose. I joke with a lot of the other founders and early members that I am still friends with that when we created the Camarilla we said “what’s the worst that can happen” and “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
The truth is that it was a good idea and it has given a lot of people a lot of joy over the years. People met other people that they would have never met otherwise. This means friendships and even marriages happen because it exists.
Other than a couple of people I hang out with that I knew before it was formed, my entire social circle can be traced either directly to the Camarilla or to WotC which itself I can trace to the Camarilla. Because of this I met my wife, found my job which I like, discovered a sister and associated family that I love, and had a host of amazing experiences. Heck even my entertainment comes from the Camarilla. I have mentioned before that I am a fan of an internet streaming show called Radio Dead Air. The host Nash is a Camarilla member and started the show as an in-character radio show in his local game.
So that is my tale of the birth of the Camarilla, as I recall it. Of course other board members from that time may remember things differently. So to them I make this offer. If any of the other founding board members have a different take on the early days, or just want to write up their memories of what happened, I will give you your say. Write up what you remember and send it to me. I promise I will publish it here on Fanboy News Network completely unedited.
As I said a lot of interesting things happened during my time in the Camarilla. One day I might dip into that vault and tell another tale. Believe me there was a lot.
I took time off from writing the blog for the holidays. This was needed as it was a crazy time for me and I needed the time.
However I did take time to reflect on where I want to go with this blog in the New Year. Let’s take a moment to look at my Fanboy News Network resolutions for the 2012.
First off my wife and I are rearranging our house. She is dedicated to make her home craft business TwistedKittenCreations a success and I want to start making video entries. To facilitate this we are rearranging the house to give us more room for our creative activates. This will give her more room for making her products and give me a space to use as a recording studio.
This leads straight to my next resolution. Start making videos for the site. I have a plan now. Once the house is rearranged I will start making them. I may take a couple of tries at it before I release anything, but I will at least start recording. Once I start posting my goal will be a video port every two weeks. I’ve already invested in a more powerful computer to handle the editing.
And now I will make the statement that is sure to come back to haunt me. I vow that there will be a post on the blog every Saturday. This means that every Saturday I miss will bring me the burning shame of missing a deadline. If that doesn’t get me writing more nothing will.
I will do more posts that are reviews of material relevant to geek culture and not just editorials.
I will look at expanding beyond just a blog and work to make this a more legitimate site. I will look for advice from my sister as she is much more successful at this. (Assuming she buys my line about this being what family does for each other.)
I will start promoting the blog more. This is hard because despite doing this I hate going out and promoting myself because I fear that I will come off as an egotistical ass. I need to get over it if I actually plan on ever finding a larger audience. Again I will ask my sister for advice.
And my wife.
And Aron from the comic shop.
And my other friends
And those of you reading this.
Where was I?
I will make an honest effort to make a backlog of articles so that if life gets in my way I will still have something to post every Saturday.
I will create a catch phrase to end blog posts. I feel I just sort of end right now.
There it is, my goals
So with that here are some projects I am working on.
1.An article on the power held by geek culture and that pros and cons that brings.
2.A series of reviews cover Universal Horror, both written and eventually in video.
3.A video series on what makes Seattle the Geek capital of the World.
4.A new Alternate Interpretations.
5.Tales from my days working at Wizards of the Coast.
6.Tales from my days as one of the founding members of the Camarilla.
We will check in in on this list in July and see how well I did.