Larp rant: we don’t hate surprises, your surprises are just boring

Photo credit: å¼  学欢 on Unsplash

Much has been said, at larp theorycons past, about setting expectations in larps. The common consensus is that surprises often fall flat because they don’t meet the expectations the game runner has set for the players about the game. This includes things like changing the game setting or genre, i.e. adding time-traveling Hitler to an otherwise historical game set in the Renaissance, or having Cthulhu appear in the midst of your game about teenagers at party.

I don’t disagree with this cause of “surprise failure.” You’re taking a risk whenever you mess with player expectations. But today I want to forward an opinion that’s a bit different:

Players don’t hate surprises. They’re just tired of the predictability of certain “surprises.”

Certain surprises have come up so often in the history of larp* that they’re just not novel any more. When I end up in a game like this, I’m filled with boredom and ennui. Oh, of course this game set at a Victorian fun fair has Dr. Who showing up. Oh, I guess we’re all secretly dead. Oh, *yawn* Cthulhu has risen from the deeps and interrupted my romance once more.

*(Here I mostly mean “Intercon-style” theater larps, but some of my examples are from New England boffer larp, as well).

I’m not saying that you can’t still do something interesting with one of these well-worn twists. Some of the examples I use below still succeed magnificently! But it’s a tough row to hoe.

So, I bet you’re wondering:

What are some of these tired surprises?

These are the ones I personally find tiring, or have heard other people express as tiring.

1) Time travel

Time travel is on the short list of “things you shouldn’t put in a (theater-style) larp,” though that’s often for mechanics reasons (i.e. it’s hard to manage characters that can manipulate causality).

But that sure hasn’t stopped people from writing games that have time travel as a secret twist.

As many of you know, my first boffer larp NPC gig was for Shadows of Amun, which ran from 2013-2016 in New England. The big twist in Shadows of Amun was that, after nearly a year of being in 1918 Egypt, the players were thrown back to 1168, during the Crusades. Another year, and they were in 30 B.C., negotiating with Cleopatra and Tony No-pants (as we called Marc Antony). Finally they returned to 1920s Egypt, and a world that had greatly changed.

Now, I think Shadows was a wildly successful game. It was run by a group of SCAdians, and you can bet their historical settings were top-notch. Seeing how the players’ actions changed the world was also REALLY COOL. Additionally, it was super well-organized.

But there were a large number of people who got to the end of game 3, where the first time jump happened, and noped the fuck out. I watched people stalk off the field in anger. Some people switched to playing different characters entirely; some highly-invested players left the game; some even demanded their money back! To say this design decision was polarizing is an understatement!

A subset of the time travel twist is the “secretly a Dr. Who game.” I’ve played in at least three games where this has happened, and every time it’s like LOOK I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR NEVERENDING BBC SERIES WITH CHEESY SPECIAL EFFECTS, CAN YOU PLEASE STOP PUTTING IT IN EVERYTHING??

But maybe this is just me.

2) You’re all actually dead.

Hey, we’ve all played in this game once. Or twice, or ten times. It might have worked the first time, when you weren’t expecting it; now, on some level, I’m always alert for signs of this trope. And when you’re expecting it, it’s not only not interesting, it’s infuriating.

Remember how disappointing the end of the TV series Lost was? That’s because “actually all the characters are dead” is not in fact a very satisfying ending. It resolves very little. In larps, it renders pointless everything else you spent your game doing. With a TV series, you might find yourself thinking “well, that’s a hundred hours of my life I’ll never get back.”

This applies, to a lesser extent, to similar tropes like “it was all a dream” or “you’re in a simulation.” I’ve seen those succeed for some people, at some times, too. But it would be foolish to consider these novel plot devices.

3) Cthulhu (or other Lovecraftian horrors)

My appetite for Lovecraftian horror is far greater than most peoples’, and even I’m getting tired of this trope. Especially when it’s done as a twist, the stars are right… for player dissatisfaction.

Why? I’ve written about it before, somewhere on LJ, but basically Cthulhu is a “bomb bigger than your game.” If you throw that in, every player has to put aside whatever else they are working on and fix this problem. Like with the “you’re all secretly dead” trope, it has a tendency to render player agency meaningless.

Plus, if you are going to put Lovecraftian stuff in your larp, please label it appropriately, because 1920s style pulp + cosmic horror, with bonus racism, is not exactly everybody’s cup of tea. Especially when it interrupts otherwise interesting gameplay.

A good example of a game where the Lovecraftian elements work well is The Borden Legacy. But that’s because it doesn’t surprise the player. You all start the game knowing that you live in a society where the cultists have won and where the nations are ruled by Deep Ones.

Basically, you, larp author, are not Neil Gaiman, and you are not writing “A Study in Emerald.”

(Though if you are Neil Gaiman: hi, I love your work; why are you reading my blog?)

So what’s an example of a good surprise, Lise?

Besides “one I didn’t see coming a mile away?”

Whenever I think of surprises that worked for me, they were ones that didn’t change the fundamental nature of the game. But they did intensify one particular aspect of the game.

Without spoilers, one example is a larp I went into expecting intense personal relationship drama at a glamorous party, and ended up with intense personal relationship drama in the face of impending death. While that is a pretty big surprise, it worked for me — and most people I’ve talked to about the game — because it’s within the tolerance of what you would expect from a game like that.

Also Cthulhu absolutely did not show up.

Treat your sleep apnea, yo, for your health and my sanity

I made a joking post on Facebook a while back about sleep apnea:

Ah yes, larps. Where you learn how many people you know probably have untreated sleep apnea.

The context was that I was larping in the woods, awake at 3am, listening to someone in the next cabin gasping for breath in between thunderous snoring. This is not a new phenomenon at larps; indeed, in the bathroom the next morning, I heard several people complaining about the snoring of their cabin mates. (We even came up for an in-character term for it: “nose thunder”).

I may have been joking there, but ultimately sleep apnea is no joke. And I wanted to elaborate a little more on this, since I realized many of you don’t know me well enough to know that I too, have sleep apnea. It has made me a bit of an evangelist about the condition. I hate to see people suffering when there is a solution out there.

My history with sleep apnea

In 2009 I got diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea. I had spent the three previous years — maybe more — never feeling rested. I had serious problems staying awake at the wheel; on my commute to work, I would continually punch myself in the leg just to stay conscious. I could sleep anywhere — unfortunately, that included boring client meetings at my job. (I eventually lost that job, and that was partially why). On my rare free days, it was hard to motivate myself to do anything, and I would inevitably need a three-hour nap in the middle of the day.

I got a CPAP machine fairly quickly after my diagnosis. A CPAP applies “continuous positive airway pressure,” i.e. it fits over your nose and delivers constant air flow to keep your airway from collapsing when you sleep. It’s basically the gold standard for sleep apnea treatment; there are also surgeries, but none of them are very effective. If this sounds really annoying, well, at first, yes, it can be. But I adapted to it very quickly, perhaps because at that point I could sleep through anything 😉

After two or three nights, I wasn’t exactly convinced it was doing anything. My daytime sleepiness lingered for a while. It wasn’t until I was at a larp event a month later — and I wasn’t falling asleep on any horizontal surface — that I realized it was working.

If you snore — especially if people tell you you stop breathing — please, please, please get a sleep study. If you have unexplained daytime sleepiness, even if no one tells you you snore, please get checked.

Some of the objections and questions I hear about sleep apnea and CPAP therapy, and my answers (keeping in mind that I am not a doctor):

“But I don’t fit the profile for sleep apnea.”

Neither did I, according to the PCP who wrote my referral for a sleep study. While I was overweight at the time, I wasn’t significantly so, and heck, I didn’t even think I snored. I got checked anyway, and so should you. Even if you don’t have obstructive sleep apnea, there’s also central apnea — where your brain just stops telling your body to breathe in your sleep — which can also be treated.

“I’ve just started using a CPAP/I use it intermittently, and I don’t notice any difference.”

The thing about sleep apnea is it’s insidious. You won’t notice 1, 2, or even 3 nights of low-level sleep deprivation. But you sure as hell notice months and years of it.

And your health will, too. Spending a third of your life gasping for breath takes its toll on the body: it raises blood pressure, increases risk of stroke, and probably other stuff we haven’t even discovered yet.

“How the heck am I supposed to get used to having air shoved down my throat all night?”

It’s amazing what the human body can get used to, really. If it helps, most CPAP machines have a “ramp” function, where they start at low pressure and gradually ramp up to their full pressure over a time you set.

Additionally, durable medical equipment companies (DMEs) have really been working on the problem of making these things comfortable. There are masks that touch as little skin as possible, humidifiers, preheat functionality, leak testing, and all kinds of conveniences.

It’s all small and portable too, so you can take it with you while larping, assuming the site has power. Heck, you can even by cozies for your CPAP hose so that they look less medical. (Or, in my case, so that my cats would stop chewing on the delectable plastic).

All I have to say about this is: if my mother — in her 60s, with chronic health problems, and sensitive to anything touching her skin while she sleeps — can get used to a CPAP machine, then you can too.

“Isn’t the sound of the machine just as annoying to my bedmate as snoring?”

Not even a little. Modern CPAPs are almost silent when the mask is fitted to the face. (If the mask slips loose, you will hear a “whooshing” noise, though). It’s white noise at worst.

“But what do you do when you have no power?”

That is a problem. Depends for how long, I suppose. I can go without for a couple of nights, but my sleep apnea, as I said, is only moderate, and mostly harmful in the long term. Luckily most larp sites these days DO have power, and CPAP machines are actually a very low draw, which is a concern at some sites I’m at.

There are also DC power solutions for CPAP, to allow you to hook up to some kind of battery, though I admit I haven’t experimented with them. (They look super pricey!)

“It’s expensive!”

Without insurance, oh, definitely. Most insurances, however, will cover this stuff pretty extensively, because it’s cheaper to treat sleep apnea than it is to treat the respiratory and circulatory issues this will eventually cause.

Again, I use the example of my mother — as a self-employed person with chronic conditions, she is still able to get her paltry insurance to cover her CPAP equipment and supplies.

That said, I realize that CPAP therapy is still not accessible to all. If you can’t manage the expense of the diagnosis or treatment, one of the best self-treatments is sleeping on your side. There’s even the “tennis ball technique” to prevent back-sleeping.

“All these people getting diagnosed with sleep apnea is just a scam by doctors/medical equipment companies/insurance to sell people equipment they don’t need!”

Yes, I have really heard this. What I will say is that given the expense of doing a sleep study — which is basically an EEG plus a bunch of other monitoring while you sleep — I guarantee you no one is making a fortune on selling you CPAP units afterward.

If anyone is making any real money off this, it’s the insurance companies, and they aren’t keen on sharing it with the doctors and the DME.

But hey, that’s the fucked up American healthcare system! Either way, your suffering isn’t going to stick it to The Man.

“Speaking of sleep studies… I can’t sleep in hospitals. Especially when there’s a bunch of stuff glued to my head.”

Sleep studies aren’t exactly super fun times, but they’re still way better than most medical procedures. I found the worst part to be trying to sleep on the schedule it enforces, which has you going to bed at 9pm, and then being kicked out of the hospital (not literally) at like 5am.

But the staff will do everything to make you comfortable — I remember mine bringing me ginger ale and asking me if there was a TV show I wanted to put on. And yeah, it took me a long time to fall asleep, but once I did they got the data they needed, which is what mattered.

(Generally they’ll do half the night just observing, and then if they see apneas they will hook you up to a CPAP to get your titration numbers, i.e. how much pressure you need. This is so you don’t have to come back for a second sleep study).

My mother told me horror stories about a sleep study where it took an hour to hook her up to the equipment. It… did not take me that long. They had it all hooked up in about fifteen minutes.

You do have to wash conductive goo out of your hair afterwards. No big deal.

Oh hey, and I’m told that in some places, you can do a sleep study at home. Like the hospital gives you a kit to hook yourself up, and then you send the data back to them the next day. That’s pretty neat, if that’s an option for you!

“I don’t want another medical condition to manage.”

If this applies to you, you probably already have a medical condition. You’re just not managing it.

Management, incidentally, is super low intensity. I have an appointment with a pulmonologist once a year (every six months for the first year), and every few months my DME calls me and says “hey do you want new supplies?” The biggest challenge I ever had was when I tried to get an auto-titrating machine two years after getting my first machine, and that was quickly resolved when they saw my compliance data. (Which lives on an SD card that you stick in the back of your machine. Some machines can send it directly to the DME/doctors, too).

In conclusion

Take care of your health, and the sanity of your fellow larpers. Please get checked ASAP if you think any of this applies to you.

If you have any questions about my experience with sleep apnea — especially as a larper with sleep apnea! — please feel free to drop a comment!

Photo credit: Jordan Whitt on Unsplash.

Becoming Shadowborn: costuming my Shadowvale character

As I promised back in Into the Shadowvale, I’m going to share the details of my character Melusina’s costuming. Mostly for the benefit of Fair Escape 😉

Costuming for this game was fairly simple, in that I made exactly nothing. I am coming to realize that while I enjoy putting together costumes, I rarely enjoy sewing. Thankfully I am at a point in my life where I can just throw money at the problem.

That said, there were a lot of moving pieces, and I’d like to give a nod to all the vendors who made it possible.

Here’s Melusina again, for visual reference. I realize that ALL BLACK ON BLACK is an aesthetic that’s hard to photograph, so I’ll add some pictures of individual items, too.

Let’s start from the top, shall we?

Headwrap: is a lightweight black scarf I found at Savers. I tie it behind my head, and roll one end into a turban (thanks, Shadows of Amun, for teaching me how to do that!), leaving the other to hang. I may do something different in hotter weather; we’ll see.

Hair: Shadowborn are said to have hair in colors of purple or red. I knew I didn’t want to wear a wig, so hair pieces and falls of various sorts seemed the best idea. Thus I opted for these deep purple/black bangs from Damnation Hair.

Credit: Damnation Hair

I was very pleased with this piece! (Although the matching hair falls I bought didn’t work out, for various reasons). It is human hair, which means it’s actually not unpleasant to have hanging in my face, like synthetic hair can sometimes be. The seam where the hair clips in is fairly obvious, and does need to be covered, however — hence the headwrap. I could probably make do with some sort of headband in hot weather.

Lipstick: is a matte lip paint in “Raine Fever” from Coloured Raine, the most enthusiastic cosmetics vendor I’ve ever encountered. (Putting in an order prompts a mailstorm of “wow, we’re so excited to serve you!” messages). Thanks to Abrihette, who plays Samaran priestess Azar, for turning me on to this company.

Credit: Coloured Raine Cosmetics

Elf ears: are custom-painted elf/hobbit/pixie ears from Etsy seller Elven Caravan. Their ears are available in a selection of colors, designed to be to matched your skin tone. They had many other ear options, too, should these ears not suit. I made a good choice as to color, if I do say so myself — I had at least one person tell me I had the “most matched elf ears” among the Faeborn. (In case you were curious, my shade of White Girl is “medium”).

Credit: Elven Caravan

Ear cuffs: are moon and star ear cuffs from Silver Palace, a Thai Etsy seller. Ear cuffs are helpful when wearing elf ears, I learned, to hide the seam where the elf ear meets human skin.

Credit: Silver PalaceTH

Contacts: Shadowborn are supposed to have violet or grey eyes. Problem: I have brown eyes. I could have just ignored this requirement, since I had other clear markers of my elf-ness, but I wanted to do something to nod in this direction. Unfortunately, since I wear prescription lenses, I found my options somewhat limited in terms of colors. (I may just not have been searching hard enough; Ashleigh, who plays Forestborn witch Lairel, had better luck finding weird prescription lenses).

I ended up ordering FreshLook Colors in Violet from 1-800-CONTACTS, which is a fairly normal sort of colored lens — you could probably get them from your optometrist. They definitely add a purple/grey cast to my eyes, but are not as dramatic as they could be. Notably, they also add a bit of a fog to my vision — not impairing, but definitely noticeable — and so required a bit of practice beforehand.

(I tried to take a picture of my purple eyes, but it’s really hard to photograph, folks!)

Here’s a headshot of Melusina, to focus on these details:

Tattoo: Melusina has, for Backstory Reasons ™, a tattoo of the letter ‘M’ on her neck. Given the armor I need to wear, this is rarely visible, but I wanted it to be there, nonetheless. Thankfully, there is such a thing as temporary tattoo printer paper. The biggest obstacle, after that, was the fact that I wanted to use was a PC-only font (Blackadder, a script font), but I needed some functions of Photoshop in order to make the sheet of tattoos, which I only have on my Mac. Much transferring of files was involved in bringing this to life.

Armor: It’s hard to see in the pic since it blends in with my clothes, but I’m wearing a leather tabard/jerkin as my required physrep for three points of armor. The tabard, in black, is from Larperlei, a German Etsy shop.

Credit: LarperLei

Shirt: In the pics I’m wearing a black shirt from The Pirate Dressing (I think it’s the Cap’n Quincy?), similar to one I already own, but which my husband stole for this event *looks meaningfully*. I ended up borrowing a larger size of the shirt from my friend Chris S, who conveniently plays one of the Veiled (a.k.a black-clad undead) in 5G Silverfire.

My other shirt for this event is a “Classic Renaissance Shirt” from Sofi’s Stitches via Medieval Collectibles.

Credit: Medieval Collectibles

Trousers: in the picture I’m wearing a pair of black breeches from Sofi’s Stitches via Medieval Collectibles.

Credit: Medieval Collectibles

I also have a pair of (voluminous!) Viking Linen Trousers from Armstreet, also in black.

Credit: Armstreet

Boots: Are my usual larp boots: Men’s Black Leather Knee High Renaissance Boots, from House of Andar.

Credit: House of Andar

Belt: This is my typical belt for larping, the 2.5″ Ladies Warrior Belt from Ravenswood Leather, with buckled pouch (something similar to the Corsair Satchel, though looped) and two Noble Jack Sword Frogs.

Credit: Ravenswood Leather

Swords: two 46″ longs from B3 Imagination Studio, i.e. Ben Becker’s company. I went for the custom sword design, opting for the angled tip, the flat sides, a round pommel, a wrap showing the phases of the moon, and a silver crossguard in the shape of the crescent moon.

Into the Shadowvale

Back in May I attended the first event of Shadowvale, a new high fantasy boffer larp using the Accelerant system. I joined this game as a player, making it only my second PC role ever!

The Setting

The Shadowvale is a mist-shrouded, spooky forest on world’s northern continent. At its heart is Wystia Castle, once the seat of power for the long-vanished kingdom of Wystia. The malevolent mists have kept adventurers away from Shadowvale and Wystia Castle for over five hundred years. Now, for some unknown reason, the mists are beginning to clear. Envoys from different nations and fortune seekers from all over the world have descended on Shadowvale — including you.

The Staff

The primary plot writers and game owners are Sue Brassard and her husband Eric Von Riegers, who I mostly know from their time staffing and NPCing Cottington Woods. The staff also includes other Cottington staffers: Matt Mitchell, Holly Bianchi, and Lisa Sants among them. There is also former Cottington player, Madrigal 3 staffer, and all-around badass JJ McGill.

Basically what I am saying is I love and trust all the staff, and that was in large part my motivation for playing! Starting with the final events of Cottington, Holly whispered sweet nothings in my ear of this game Sue was planning which was inspired by fantasy works I loved, like the Elder Scrolls. I also worked extensively with Lisa when I was NPCing Cottington to make the player of the Fen Witch regret his life and his choices, and realize I wanted to be on the receiving end of that kind of deeply angsty personal plot.

(I literally put “get tortured by Lisa” as my number one player goal for this game when I submitted my history)

Character (mine in particular)

So, the first thing to know about my character Melusina is that she started life as a character concept for Crossover, another Accelerant game. I had planned her originally as the fae Melesarla Moon-shriven, a Faithful of the Moon with a history as a disgraced assassin. Eventually I decided that, given when Crossover started, I didn’t have the bandwidth to play. I’m kind of glad I made that decision — it is a tremendously popular game, with a waitlist for every event, and I don’t have the patience for that kind of uncertainty.

But Shadowvale looked like the sort of setting that could accommodate the same general character concept. I made changes to Melesarla to turn her into Melusina, but if you still see traces of a Crossover FotM, that is why!

Character creation in SV is a four-step process, whereby you choose a race, a culture, a class, and optionally a vocation.

Race. Your racial choices are human, Ashen, or Faeborn. The Ashen are basically magicless humans, and the Faeborn are similar to elves, coming in three varieties: Shadowborn, Seaborn, and Forestborn. The Faeborn have costuming requirements that involve elf ears and variously colored hair or eyes.

Loving elves as much as I do, and given the history of this character concept, I of course wanted to play a Faeborn. Shadowborn — who evoked the Dunmer in the Elder Scrolls, Warcraft night elves, or Forgotten Realms drow — were especially appealing, and I could see how to make that work with my character concept. That was the easy choice.

Next, culture. This has to do with the part of the game world that you are from. As I mentioned, there are two continents. The southern continent is dominated by the Samaran Empire, which, as far as historical analogues goes, seems to take inspiration from both the Roman Empire, as well as Byzantine and Arab cultures. Everyone else is on the northern continent, and your options are: Solenim, which is a very Latin-inspired place, known for its sages and universities; Devon and Brenland, the two kingdoms that used to compose Wystia, and are sort of British Isles-y (one more traditional than the other; ask me if I remember the difference!); Avaria, a land of merchant city-states, very Renaissance Italian in its feel; the Free Isles, where pirates come from; and Svordland, which bears a clear Viking/Nordic influence. There were also the Old Forests, the home of the Forestborn, and the Floating Villages, a series of boat-cities, attached to large cities around the coasts, which are often peopled by Seaborn.

Shadowborn could be from just about anywhere, so I let my choice of vocation (more on that in a bit) determine my culture: Avaria.

After reading the Avarian culture packet, I made a comment to Sue that it reminded me of Camorr, from Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards books. She replied with “Avaria wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for those books.” So, uh, I chose well. In particular, Melusina is from the city-state of Devara, which is again relevant to her vocation.

The culture you choose also informs your choice of names; Avarians apparently have long, Italian-sounding names. Here is where Melesarla — which never sounded right to my ears — became Melusina, which sounds more… well, mellifluous. I added on “Ombras Sarezzo.” “Ombras” reminds me of the Latin word for “shadow”, and Sarezzo is… well, “Sarethi” is a Dunmer name I use a lot when I play a dark elf in Elder Scrolls games; it was kind of a variation on that.

Class. There are five classes, which break down further into a large choice of headers. At the top level, you can be a warrior, rogue, sage, witch, or occultist.

To be honest, I didn’t look at much but rogue. Given the backstory I envisioned for this character, I zeroed in on that class — in particular the assassin header. I also considered the Fae Hunter specialization, but dropped it when I realized that “fae” is not the same as “Faeborn” (something I had to explain many times over the weekend — the game materials don’t really delve into it, and I only know because Sue corrected me on its usage when I submitted my character history).

Vocation. Here is where you can choose things like a craft, a profession, or a faith. The faiths are tied to the culture you choose, which is why I ended up choosing Avaria — because the Lady of Mysteries, the Avarian goddess of night, mystery, and luck (good and ill), was pretty much exactly what I needed. If we’re continuing to compare Avaria to Camorr, the Lady of Mysteries is kind of equivalent to the Nameless Thirteenth god of that pantheon. The header associated with it is called Veiled Priest. In addition to the trait “Faithful of the Lady of Mysteries,” it gains you access to a really nice once-per-twilight free Avoid, and the uber-powerful No Effect to Shadow. I decided that in a game called Shadowvale, that would be the best thing ever.

So that’s me: Melusina Ombras Sarezzo: Avarian Shadowborn Veiled Priest and assassin. What does she look like?

Kind of like this:

(Fair Escape, don’t worry. I’ll be doing a full post about her costuming 🙂 )

The Site

Shadowvale takes place at Camp Frank A. Day in East Brookfield, MA — the site of Cottington Woods as well as Mirror Mirror. As far as camps go, it’s one of the nicer ones — the cabins are a little shabby, and the water tastes like sulfur, but there’s electricity in every space, and the bathrooms are generally clean. The women’s room in the player cabin area has a nice series of mirrors for checking out your costuming, too 😉 The new owners seem to actually understand larpers, too, and are fairly tolerant of our eccentricities.

Shadowvale used the space differently than Cottington, and I think it was a good decision. The largest mod space at Frank A. Day is the rec center, usually referred to as “the hangar” due to its size and appearance. It is closer to the road, meaning it’s a bit of trek to get to it from the main camp. My husband jokingly referred to it as “the building that makes the dawn come,” due to how long he had spent in there as a Cottington PC.

Shadowvale does use this a mod space, too, but sparingly. We only had one mod that took place there, the Saturday night “capstone” of visiting the audience chamber of Wystia Castle. Instead of the hangar, staff used McKnight Hall — the camp’s dining hall, which Cottington used as a tavern — as the primary mod space.

Not having McKnight Hall as a tavern has some positives and negatives. A negative is that you can only get to the refrigerators/kitchen during meal times, which made storing stuff there unattractive. (Most people I know opted to keep their food in coolers at their cabin instead). I’m not sure if this is connected at all to why we didn’t have food service at the game. Two of the cabins in the Juniors area were set aside as tavern space, but they were too small for the entire game to gather at once.

I feel like not having a large, central indoor place for people to gather actually turned out to be a net positive. This turned the Juniors area of the camp, which is where PC cabins are, into the primary gathering space, rather than just a place PCs go to sleep. A couple groups (mine included) brought pop-up tents to put up outside, and these quickly became small group gathering spaces — especially when we offered coffee.

If you can imagine PCs wandering between a bunch of small groups, chatting, eating and drinking, and moving on — and NPCs coming there to hook mods — then you can imagine the homely feeling this engendered. I really felt like this, more than anything, contributed to our “town” feeling like the encampment it was supposed to be.

Also, this opened up the possibility of having field fights in Juniors field, which is something I didn’t see much at Cottington.


Obviously, as a player I didn’t have a good grasp of logistics. From my perspective, everything ran fairly smoothly. The only noticeable lack was somewhat out of the staff’s control: NPC numbers. Apparently strep had been going around the local larp community, knocking out a lot of people who had committed to NPC. As JJ recently wrote, one of the most commonly-heard phrases in Monster Camp was, “What’s the absolute minimum you need in order to run that mod?” I know, for example, the mod that was intended to be my welcome mod was postponed until later in the evening, because they literally couldn’t spare the one NPC to run it.

I also noted that we started about an hour late on Friday night. While not great, this was completely understandable, given the lack of NPCs — and isn’t that bad, by all accounts I’ve heard of first event start times.


In a teaser that was sent out before game, we were informed that our parties that had been traveling through the Shadowvale had been overtaken by mist and gotten lost. Mechanically, this meant we would be starting in separate welcome mods.

Also before the first game we filled out a questionnaire concerning which paths we would like to follow. The different paths, with names like “Path of Magic” and “Path of the Imperial”, were mostly flavor, meant to gauge what plots you wanted to be involved in. I don’t recall my response, but I believe I rated the Path of the Rogue, Magic, and Faith highly. Holly, my “in” on staff, informed me later that these were what were used to determine what welcome mod you got.

Sorta. NPC numbers were again a concern. The Path of the Rogue welcome mod actually had to run later that night, because, as I was told, they literally could not spare the single NPC it required. So instead I ended up on (I think) the Path of Magic welcome mod. I found myself on that mod with two other people from my team, as well as two players I was unconnected to.

We were given an ambient Stun effect, to represent the fact that we had passed out or fallen asleep wandering through the mists, and a short time later, a cure for that. We found ourselves in a pool of light, somewhere in the forest. After puzzling through a challenge involving jumpy stones, an enigmatic fae(?) called the Watcher, and a confused-seeming woman named Cora, we found our way back to a way gate — a garden arch lit with purple lights and draped with black cloth. We found the rest of the players milling about there, with news that the encampment we all had been seeking was just ahead. With this, we made our way to our cabins and began meeting our fellow adventurers.

As far as introductions to the game go, I think this was a fine one. Adina of Fair Escape has opined before that she doesn’t like “cold” intros, where the staff just gathers everyone in a common space and says “game on.” This was much better in this regard. If I had any quibbling complaints about this opening, it’s that I could have used a bit more time to get into character before we were thrown into solving a physical challenge.

Oh, and I did finally get my intro mod — just later in the evening. The one other Path of the Rogue player in game (!) is my team member Kim; together, we had to pick locks and disarm traps to free Finn (also Totally Not a Rogue) who was trapped by bandits. (These were the first, of many locks I would open this weekend — Sue and Lisa sure do love their roguery). From there he led us on a series of adventures spanning the weekend, to the purpose of getting his stolen stuff back.

The main plot for the weekend involved the opening of Wystia Castle. Though the mists had receded from around it, still mistwraiths haunted the area, so it was important that we tread carefully. As a result, we would fight mistwraiths again and again that weekend. We learned, too, that humans could be taken by the mists, and what that looked like.

Our explorations started with a visit from the Sages Guild on Saturday morning, talking about what we could expect and what we should pay attention to in exploring the Castle. Many of us also learned the Surveying skill, which would allow us to do the Surveying mechanic. With this mechanic, we were allowed to read certain types of tags found in labeled envelopes throughout the ruins that described a scene; we were encouraged to then describe or draw the scene that we surveyed in our own way.

Throughout Saturday, we explored different parts of the outer castle — the stables, the blacksmith’s forge, the barracks — and discovered different bits of information and treasure there.

This exploration culminated on Saturday night with the opening of the audience chamber of Wystia Castle. We started down the road to the hangar, dogged by mistwraiths the whole way. Outside of the mod building, some of the PCs had the idea to stop and have a sort of… dedication, or oath-taking, as a way of appeasing the spirits resting within. The three priests of the dead among our number — one of whom my husband Matt plays, Silent Priest Torian Eventide — said a few words (improvised and yet quite lovely), and then as a group we knelt and swore that we came with no malice in our hearts.

(This led to a funny exchange: “do you come here with secrets in your hearts?” “Uhhh… Yes?” “Okay, let’s try that again. Do you come here with secrets in your hearts pertaining to the expedition?”)

When we were done with our dedication, the door to the castle rolled upon under an unseen hand, and a mist-shrouded spirit gestured us in.

What did we find within? A huge space, crawling with mist (courtesy of a fog machine), the lights dim. A royal court in their finery, acting out scenes from five hundred years past, mist lying heavy on their shoulders. Warnings of the court’s demise scattered about the space, in locked boxes; the court blithely ignoring these warnings, when we brought them to their attention.

It was probably the greatest of several spooky, atmospheric scenes the staff laid out for us over the weekend. And, as I said in my PEL, “spooky” and “atmospheric” are adjectives this game did really, really well.

I also want to say a word about a plot tool/game mechanic that was used in a number of mods — regrettably none that I was involved with! One of the sages (played by Matt Mitchell) invited us to engage in some “alternative revisionist meta-history” to explore the past of the world, revisit some myths and legends, and determine the veracity of past events. This turned out to be a spin on the game Microscope, a collaborative storytelling game. I’ve never heard of any game using this mechanic, and I thought it was a great way of getting players involved in building the history of the world.

I did many, many other things this game — explored a creepy mortuary in the sewers and fought an animated trash monster, helped one of the Wardens of the Shadowvale to piece back a ward stone to keep away mistwraiths, and attempted to infiltrate the Brennish delegation to the Shadowvale, to name just a few. But to write out everything I did would require way more space than I have in this post, and hey, that’s why I wrote a PEL.

Combat and Mechanics

Like most Accelerant games, Shadowvale has customized the core rules to suit its own needs.

One of the most interesting additions was “Minor” traits i.e. “Root by Minor Blood.” This is different than a Short, in that the effect can be purged in ten seconds without a rest. I understand SV wasn’t the first game to do this (it might have been 7V?), but it worked well for their purposes.

Shadowvale also has Twilight skills, which are skills that refresh at 6am and 6pm every day. Functionally this divides the game into four periods: Friday evening, Saturday daytime, Saturday evening, and Sunday daytime. Unsurprising, considering the staff, this was inherited from Cottington Woods. I was hesitant about this at first, but it turns out that having a skill that refreshes less frequently than per encounter but more than per event is really handy!

SV also borrows the use of Comatose from Cottington Woods, which allows you to choose to go Comatose when you would otherwise bleed out from called damage. From there you would would need a Cure Comatose, or 10 points of healing, to return to consciousness. This does feel a bit clunky to me, but I admit it would avoid many deaths of the “was wearing black and bled out in the woods” sort. Given my costuming for this game, I am in favor!

Shadowvale’s attribute system is different than I’ve seen, as well. You have Vitality, of course, which determines how many hits you can take before you fall. Then your abilities are mostly powered by the Resilience and Endurance stats. The former tends to be used for defenses and passive effects, while the latter tends to be used for attacks, healing, and other active effects. You also have Determination, which can be used in place of either, but costs more to buy initially, similar to how Void works in some Accelerant games. Unlike Void, however, Determination still refreshes with rest/per encounter.

All that said, I used very few of my skills during this event. Perhaps this was because it was my first time playing a melee skirmisher type character, and I was still getting my footing with that whole “sneaking around behind enemies in the darkness” thing. I had a free per Twilight Avoid as well as an Avoid that cost me 2R, and I don’t think I used either more than once the whole game. Even when Sue’s boss monster in the final fight of the weekend laid into me with a 10 damage!

It could also be a consequence of the fact that this felt like a combat-light game — at least compared to 5G, which sometimes drives us into the ground with combat! I’m not sure if this is intentional, or a consequence of how few NPCs there were.


Folks, I had an amazing time, and I know a lot of other people did, too. I would not be surprised if this game is the sleeper hit of the season. It combines great storytelling from experienced GMs, a world we’re invited to participate in building, and a novel (to me) social dynamic.

My only regret is that there was only one spring game. Now I have to wait until September to get my fix!

Lise Opines: How to Make a Spell Packet

Some packets my husband Matt made for his Shadowvale character.

Many live-combat LARPs in the New England area — in particular in the Accelerant system — use packets to represent both spells and arrows. These are basically little mushroom-shaped beanbags made out of birdseed and knit fabric.

For something so simple, they sure do occasion a lot of discussion.

While I’m still kind of new to the boffer larp scene, in a short time I’ve developed Opinions on packets, and I’m going to share them with you. I’m also dimly hopeful this will prove useful to those of you just starting out!

The Official Stuff

First, the official word of god, a.k.a. Rob Ciccolini, on packet construction. From the Accelerant core rules, version 6.0:

Packets have strict construction guidelines.

That leaves us with some questions, doesn’t it?

To be fair, from what I understand of the Accelerant philosophy, this minimalism is intentional; the question is left open to individual Accelerant games. So let’s look to those for further guidance:

Packets – Packets are small bean bags that are thrown to represent magical attacks, arrows, or special powers. They should be made of stretchable fabric and filled with birdseed. You should use only small birdseed with no larger or sharper seeds. A square of fabric is pulled around the birdseed and its corners are gathered together to form a “tail” and closed up with a rubber band, string or tape. You may also sew a packet shut.

The head of the packet should be between 1 and 1.5 inches in diameter, and the tail behind the tape should not be longer than 3 inches. The fabric must be stretchable and cannot be pulled so tight that it no longer has give. You should be able to squeeze the center of the packet and almost touch your fingers together.

-Fifth Gate Weapon Props guidelines

Crossover has some very similar rules, too.

The Less-Official Stuff

My friend Chris S has some helpful tips and guidelines that I also generally follow:

You need fabric with 4-way stretch. I tend to like ITY Jersey knits – cheap and thin
Cut the fabric into 5 inch by five inch squares – easy to do with a fabric with repeating pattern
You need small bird seed without sunflower kernals – white millet is good, though expensive – sift larger mixes is cheaper
Each packet gets 2-3 normal spoonfuls of seed
Close it by drawing corners and then the middle points
Wrap a normal staples elastic around the packet tail 8 times
Make sure it is loose enough

-personal email

My Thoughts

There are a few important points here, and it’s vital to understand why they’re important, so you know where you can skimp if you need to.

Fabric Choice

I feel strongly that you should use knits. Knits are going to lend the packet more “give”, which means it won’t hit your target with too much force. (This is especially important if you’re using one of the newfangled packet bows, which hit with a great deal more force). They’re also less prone to fraying, so your packets are less likely to fall apart. I also personally feel they fly better, as knit fabrics are better at forming the birdseed into a regularly-sized ball.

“But Lise,” you say, “I have no idea what a knit fabric really is.”

This is what I end up concluding after seeing the VAST NUMBER of packets made out of muslin, so allow me a few moments to explain what I think is happening here, what the difference is between woven and knit fabrics, and why it matters for making packets.

I think the less fabric-savvy packet makers go to Jo-Ann’s, looking for what’s cheap, and beeline for the muslin and cotton broadcloths. They pull on the corners and say, “hey, that has stretch,” because they’re probably pulling it along the diagonal, or bias. ALL fabric, even woven fabric, has stretch along the diagonal, and that is NOT sufficient stretch for packets.

A woven fabric is woven on a loom of some sort. It has warp thread and weft threads which terminate at the horizontal and vertical edges of the fabric. As a result, when the edges are cut, the component threads start to fray off.

A knit fabric is, well, knitted. Imagine a more industrial version of something you’d knit for yourself. Instead of a warp and weft, it is one continuous thread that is brought through the piece of fabric. In traditional knitting, if you cut through the body of the work, the whole piece will begin to ladder, like a rip in a pair of stockings. Commercial knit fabrics mostly don’t do this (for some magical reasons I don’t understand), but they do roll at the edges when cut. In this case, that’s actually desirable.

Again. You need knits. Wovens will not do, even wovens that incorporate a bit of some stretchy material. In a fabric store knits are usually housed in a completely different section than the wovens. Look for the swimsuit and leotard material and you won’t be far off.

I agree with Chris’ statement about the awesomeness of ITY knits, but they are pricey. You can pick up remnants, if that’s cheaper, but an even better way to acquire packet fabric on the cheap? Buy a bunch of old t-shirts and cut them up. (The only drawback here is you’ll get a lot of packets in blacks and navy blues, which can be hard to find at the end of an event. If you’re okay with losing a few, though, do proceed!)

Fabric Shape and Size

You need a square in order to make a tail — it’s a lot harder to work with a rectangle. I’ve never tried working with a circle, but it might work. But either way, radial symmetry is important for forming the tail.

There’s some room for variation in size, within the rules of your particular game. I actually tend to cut my squares a bit wider than Chris does (5 1/2 to 6″ square), because my hands are small and I need long-ish tails in order to hold a good number in my hand at a time. On the other hand, packets made for packet bows do better with a shorter tail.

I think the only thing a long tail affects is how the packet flies, so if you make the tail too long or too short, really, the only person who’s going to be suffering is you.

Type of Seed Used

At this point, we’re going to assume you know you should use birdseed, and not, oh, fishing weights, or buckshot, or any of those things that cropped up in the Bad Ol’ Days of Larping. (Yes, for real. If you want to hear some horror stories of weapon/packet construction gone horribly wrong, corner an old timer at a larp sometime and ask).

In general, you want the birdseed you use to not be pokey, because it will come flying at your target at a decent speed.

Sunflower seeds? Right out.

Thistle seed? (which makes up most commercial birdseed mixes)? Eh. It’s small, so probably not a big danger, but it’s also, well… thistle-y. I prefer not to use it.

Another bad choice? Cracked corn, or cornmeal, or really anything having to do with corn. In particular this stuff hardens like a rock when it gets damp and then dries. Packets — which are thrown around outside in all kinds of damp and dry whether — are especially likely to do this.

You can filter the “bad” seeds out of a mix with a sieve, like Chris’ guidelines suggest, but if you value your time more, I recommend buying 20lbs of white millet birdseed on Amazon. It’s $28 $58 and will make, by my estimation, 480 to 600 packets. It depends how quickly you use the packets, of course, but that might well be enough for an entire three-year campaign.

(ETA: wow, in the ~5 years since I wrote this, the price of millet has nearly doubled. Inflation! That said, I think we’re still using the bags we bought back in 2017…)

Amount of Seed Used

Chris’ guideline says “2 to 3 normal spoonfuls”, but I admit that level of imprecision doesn’t work for me. Does he mean tablespoons or teaspoons? Are they level, or heaping? I have an 1/8 cup measure I use for this, which I usually fill to about 80% for each packet. Experiment to get the size you want, within the guidelines for your larp.


Use rubber bands. I can’t imagine anyone going to the mess and trouble of sewing these things closed. Tape comes undone, or tears, or gets wet and falls apart. String comes untied. Tiny hair elastics might work, too, but I feel like they’re more likely to break, and they’re probably more expensive, to boot.

Everything else

… is an “eyeball it”/”doesn’t matter too much” situation. You’ll get a feel for how many wraps of the rubber band will make the packet too tight, how to fold the fabric so you don’t lose seeds, etc. This part is very personal.

Bonus Tips

The muffin tin method: Basically each cup of a muffin tin holds your fabric square and birdseed until you’re ready to fold it and tie it. Handy to keep birdseed from getting everywhere.

A rotary cutter, self-healing mat, and plastic grid ruler (standard quilting tools) will make cutting squares of fabric much, much easier.

Matt and I have color-coded our characters’ packets before, to make them easier to recognize as yours when you’re cleaning up at the end of an event. Except, of course, if another player uses the same color as you.

I have also heard it said that a good packet should fit in a film canister. Who can remember what a film canister looks like?

Edited 10 May 2022 to remove weird characters and update the price of millet (!)

Boss monster: anticipatory anxiety

I was listening to the newest episode of Happier with Gretchen Rubin this morning — in particular, episode 85, “Ever Been Annoyed by a Gift?” One of the topics they discussed is giving yourself something to look forward to on the calendar. To paraphrase Gretchen, if there’s nothing on your calendar to look forward to, maybe reconsider your life and your choices.

There is very little for me to look forward to on my calendar.

Honestly, the things I look forward to the most are activities that mostly involve me being lazy, like my monthly massage. Or plonking down on the couch with a stack of books on a rainy day and just reading — which I almost never do.

To what extent is this a product of my personality and my hobbies, though?

As I’ve mentioned before, I feel a lot of anticipatory don’t-wannas about basically everything I ultimately enjoy. There is a part of Lise that really enjoys going out in the woods in silly costumes and hitting people with foam swords — and I’m often energized for weeks afterward — but there is another part of Lise that is really, really attached to creature comforts. These parts of me are constantly at war.

So, last week, for example. I knew I had 5G coming up. I knew there were some costuming and other prep tasks I needed to take care of. I dreaded them. Even convincing myself to make my character’s death mitigation tokens — which literally involves writing on a ribbon with a silver pen, then hot-gluing the ends together to form a moebius strip — was torture.

(Also guess which genius FORGOT these tokens at home and had to make them out of paper, on the fly?)

But around lunchtime on Friday, when I was writing in Ianthe’s character journal while waiting for the glue gun to warm, I realized I was actually doing okay. In fact, I was annoyed that I hadn’t started earlier, so that I could have done more.

I wish I could bottle this feeling, so I could sell it to future Lise.

The weekend itself was invigorating. I slogged around in the drizzling rain and slept in a stuffy cabin and I still felt great. I kept being annoyed I hadn’t done more costuming stuff, though. I keep meaning to put more symbols on my garb, for example. (The equivalent of “put some gears on it” for the Arcane Circle, I guess). I keep meaning to order ink cartridges so I can use my cartridge pen for writing in my IC journal. I want to make earrings for Ianthe, and decorate curtains for her bed, and make a dress for the winter ball, and and and…

I’m pretty sure the feeling will fade in about two weeks. And the next event isn’t until December January.

Now I have to get ready for Cafe Casablanca, and it’s the same thing. Worse, in some ways, because the prep involves flying to Chicago, and all that entails. I want to do pin curls for the event itself, and I keep telling myself I need to practice them ahead of time. Can I ever convince myself to do this? Of course not. Hell, I didn’t even read my whole character sheet until yesterday.

I like these things. I almost never feel bad while actually doing them. Why is it so hard to get myself to anticipate them positively?

Madrigal is magical

Recently I NPCed for the first event of Madrigal 3, the third game in the popular Madrigal series — the boffer larp that gave us the even-more-popular Accelerant rules system.

Let’s be real — sometimes when you NPC, it’s kind of a drag, and you just do it for the CP. But this time? I had a legitimately amazing time. There were good fights, good RP, a fairly comfortable monster camp, and a chill, organized, and conscientious staff.

My motivation for joining the Madrigal perm NPC team was simple. With both Shadows of Amun and Cottington Woods ended, I needed a new source of CP — for Ianthe, my Fifth Gate Silverfire character, as well as my soon-to-be Shadowvale PC Melys. I knew a lot of awesome people who were involved with Madrigal, and it had a rock-solid reputation, so I thought it would be the best bet.

The Site

The game is held at Camp Woodstock, a YMCA camp in Woodstock, CT, in that section of central New England where all larps seem to take place. It’s not far, thus, from Camp Frank A. Day (where Cottington ran), Camp Eagle Pass (where Cottington and Shadows both had one-day events), and Ye Olde Commons (where 5G did its winter revel).

As far as camps go, it’s fairly typical — working bathrooms, water that sometimes smells sulfurous, some buildings winterized, some not, and of course no (or almost no) air-conditioning. What makes it unique is the building we use for Monster Camp, a large winterized (i.e. heated) building that sleeps 44, called “the Boathouse.” It’s rare for NPC housing and Monster Camp to share a space, but it’s also super-convenient — you can go back to your bunk whenever you need costuming. As if that weren’t nice enough, the Boathouse also has bathrooms right inside (so no trekking off to a separate bathhouse), a wraparound porch, and an amazing view of Black Pond.

If you’re bug-phobic, however, the Boathouse seems to be sited in the midst of a spider vs. wasp turf war. I mean, it’s nature… it kind of comes with the territory. But if that concerns you, I thought I would note it. On the upside, I didn’t find any ticks on me this weekend, despite being in the state that brought us Lyme disease.

The Staff

The staff is mostly folks I know from other larps — indeed, a good chunk of them are folks I play 5G Silverfire with. Best-known, perhaps, is the game owner Rob Ciccolini, the creator of the Accelerant system which has taken over live-combat larping in New England.

Overall, counting staff and NPCs, I think there were about 30 of us this side of Monster Camp. This number will be relevant!

Mostly I was impressed by how calm and collected the staff was. The most hectic I saw it was right before game on, but even then, it was a controlled chaos. (More on that under Logistics).

It was also good to see how invested the staff was in our having fun. I started to get a little worried when I caught Rob a few times asking NPCs (including me) if we “had enough to do.” At first my reaction was, “Oh god, I’m not doing enough, I’m slacking off, GUILT!” But then I realized, when he phrased it as, “Are you getting the kind of roles you want?” that he legitimately just wanted to make sure we we were having a good time. I really appreciated that.

Another thing I liked is that the staff weren’t pushy at all about asking us to go out on mods. It was very much left up to NPC choice if you wanted to go out on a role or not. Theoretically, this is always true, but in some games I’ve felt more pressure than others to jump on whatever role was offered to me. In this way it’s easy to push myself too far in a weekend. I felt a little guilty for missing a field fight by going to bed early-ish on Saturday night — especially given numbers — but I felt like I was encouraged to do what I needed to do for self-care.

It was also interesting to see the staff brainstorming how to help players who weren’t having fun, or who didn’t know quite what to do with themselves. Thanks to a somewhat loose schedule, we were able to react with agility to such things — I know at least one mod I went out on was designed specifically for a certain PC who was having a rough time, and I’m pretty sure Sunday’s field fight was adjusted to give reincarnated characters (i.e. characters who were the reincarnation of Mad2 characters) some idea of their powers and limitations.

The Players


For those of you who don’t have a sense of scale… that is huge. Like, both sides of 5G are capped at 75 players — the crossroads event might get us up to 150. Shadows probably never had more than 80 or so. I think there might have only been 40-50 Cottington PCs by the end. All of these are ginormous, of course, beside theater larps, which generally aren’t much larger than 20-30 players.


To someone mitigate this vast disparity between PCs and NPCs, PCs were encouraged to take shifts NPCing. It wasn’t mandatory, but I think it was incentivized with CP or in-game currency. In any case, it was very very nice to every now and again have fresh-faced new NPCs popping up to help.

I saw many familiar faces PC side, too — several people from my 5G Silverfire team, folks I knew from Cottington Woods and Shadows, etc. I’m kind of surprised how few people I saw that I knew originally from theater-style larping, even among those who have made the jump to live combat. I’m guessing a lot of them are tied up with Crossover?

Funny little detail: there were something like 20 players — three team’s worth — from Virginia, who traveled all the way up here to play in this game. Apparently there’s a nice-sized Accelerant diaspora down there, thanks to people who played Mad1 and 2 and started Numina, and people who played Numina and started Ascendant. I met up with a group of them doing NPC shifts, and learned a lot about the culture of Accelerant in that area. It speaks to a point I heard raised at NELCO — that there are Galápagos Islands of Accelerant larps across the U.S., all experiencing this sort of divergent (sometimes convergent) evolution.

The Setting

Madrigal’s setting is a traditional fantasy world, called Aerune, with some unique details that make it really wondrous. Players come from one of thirteen countries, which vary in geography from canyon-scarred deserts to glaciers to impenetrable forest, and take inspiration from a wide range of historical cultures. In addition to that you choose one of ten races to play, many of which have sub-races. These cover ground between popular fantasy races like elves and orcs, to animated constructs, to the shoathri, a race of animal shape-changers. Also, though the game takes place a thousand years after the events of Mad2, some returning players have chosen to create connections to their Mad2 characters, via their character’s ancestry, or by being the reincarnated spirit of the original character, or even by just waking up a thousand years later.

Despite their origins, all players have one thing in common — they have all come to the “lost” city of Nocturne, whose ruins which have risen from the ground after being swallowed up years ago.

I happened to be bunking near Katie and Jerry, the two staffers who wrote plot for the lands of Blacktallow and Dremasque, so I learned the most about those cultures. Blacktallow has kind of a steampunk-y feel to it (to me, at least) — ostensibly it’s a place where chivalry is valued above all else. It also seems to have a lot of warring house political plot going on. (Jerry compared one of his Blacktallow NPCs to a particular GoT character — which was somewhat lost on me).

I found particularly interesting the Dremasque, a culture where the nobility is cursed to go mad due to having the bloodlines of a dead mad god. In addition to wearing motley as their sort of national color, they also wear masks, which are meant to be a reminder of their curse. The Dremasque have created professions based around dealing with an aristocracy that may someday become a danger to everyone around them — Joy Eaters, who are supposed to help cure Madness, and the Black Masque, who are a unique sort of assassin, tasked with killing nobles who are beyond help and have become a danger to others.

One of my favorite NPC roles was a Dremasque noble who had had an unfortunate experience in the woods and had temporarily lost Lucidity (their term for sanity). The staffer who wrote it, Jerry, told me it was kind of intended to suss out what the PCs who had chosen to be Black Masque wanted — did they want to be merciless killers who would off someone who was begging for their life, or were they more interested in compassion? Well, my NPC lived, so I think that speaks highly of the players who chose that path…

Some other interesting cultural tidbits are that the Tatterdemalion, a nomadic people, are famed candy-makers, and make medicinal candy, and that the Khoros, a vaguely Viking-inspired people, mark their prowess in battle by decorating a leather skirt.

For anyone who asked me: given the name, is there singing in Madrigal? Well, there definitely was singing, but I’m not sure how official it was! Apparently the Madrigals are pieces of music with great power within the world, although they only crop up officially in-game every so often.


As some of you know, I have a bit of a fascination with larp scheduling, so indulge me while I say a few words about that.

I realized that most of the games I’ve NPCed for in the past were games with set time-frames — both Cottington and Shadows, for example, were beholden to three-year arcs. Madrigal, which is an ongoing game with no set end, felt different, and definitely had less of a sense of urgency.

There was a schedule — but, as staffer JJ warned me beforehand, it was largely useless to me, as a non-staff NPC. It blocked the weekend in 1.5 hour blocks, but only indicated what buildings were in use and where staff members were going to be at those times. Big, all-town events were marked, but individual mods were left to the discretion of the staff in charge of that plot. Regular NPCs had no schedule; they were assumed to be available for whatever when they were sitting in the common room of the Boathouse. I was given one role to prepare for ahead of time, and then a couple of other roles were offered to me once certain plot writers learned that I was down for roleplay. For only one of those roles (the Dremasque noble) was I given a — short, but well-written — writeup.

On the whole, I felt like the game didn’t suffer from this loose schedule. That may be largely because, as I said, it’s an on-going game, and there’s no set destination we had to arrive at. It gave us the freedom to do things like ditch an entire field fight because we realized the PCs (and NPCs!) were too exhausted for it, or to change the game plan to help players have fun. It also allowed NPCs to rest when they needed to. I mean, I loved Shadows, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that its strict (and mostly adhered-to!) NPC schedule sometimes made me feel like I didn’t have any downtime.

I also felt the large staff — and the delegation to that large staff — was a strength of the game
. I don’t think Madrigal has an official “don’t NPC plot that you write” rule like Shadows did, but it seemed like they generally obeyed this separation of concerns. (Which helps avoid the “staff/NPCs can’t bi-locate” problem of some games).

Since food is part of logistics, let me say a word about that, too. The meals handled by the actual Camp Woodstock cafeteria staff, which has its pluses and minuses — it’s more reliable, and doesn’t take players out of game to prepare food for others (a real problem at Shadows), but it also was pretty institutional in nature, and they straight-up ran out. By the time a friend arrived to dinner, for example , there was nothing left but salad and corn. As an NPC, Madrigal pays for only your Saturday evening meal, as well as all the snacks lying around Monster Camp. You can also purchase the breakfasts served at the cafeteria. Given my current diet, there wasn’t much I could eat of the breakfasts or snacks, either way, so I brought a lot of my own food — which worked out fine, as there was a fridge.

Stuff Wot I Did

“Finally, Lise gets to the interesting parts,” I can hear you saying 🙂

Over the course of the weekend, there were scheduled to be five field fights; we cut one of those when it became clear that the Saturday afternoon field fight had taken it out of everyone.

In three of the four field fights the opponents were hobgoblins — an enemy who had recently been raiding around Nocturne. I had to miss two of these for various reasons, but hopefully I more than made up for it the Saturday afternoon fight, which shall live in infamy.

Why was the Saturday afternoon fight so infamous?
Well, first you have to understand its purpose was partly pragmatic. The camp was hosting swimming lessons for locals from 4-5pm that day, and had requested we not be in the parts of the camp close to the water between 3:45 and 5:15 or so. We could, however, use the field between the barn and the administration building (affectionately called “the Cube” — Time Cube jokes were made).

An hour-long field fight is REALLY FREAKING LONG, so to make us all not die of heat prostration, staff had decided to split it into five waves. It ended up turning into fighting for ten minutes followed by resting for 5-10 minutes. During the rest, the NPCs would retreat into the Cube (which had A/C!) and rehydrate, which was framed as the hobgoblins retreating to their fortress and regrouping.

Still, even with rest breaks, it was a grueling fight for NPCs and PCs alike. That I held up fairly well is a testament to how I’ve become more fit — despite the heat and the climb uphill to respawn, I kept a high level of energy throughout.

During that fight, where I was cut down again and again and again by PCs — sometimes without even getting to attack — I decided that my new motto was, “if I can’t die gloriously, at least die hilariously.” Which, really, when you’re outnumbered six to one, is sometimes the best thing you can do.

Throughout the weekend, I also played an undead pirate in Sunday’s field fight, a Scaled One defending a treasure, an orc raiding through a portal, and a shadow with a crossbow. (Really, most of what I did was crunching).

One of my two face roles was the Dremasque noble I wrote about above. The more notable — the one I had been asked to prep in advance for — was an orc shaman who was making Poor Life Choices ™ that would affect the players in the year to come. When I was asked to do this role, little did anyone know that I had been wanting to make a Warcraft orc shaman costume for yeeeeeears, and this was just an excuse to channel my inner nerd.

Chankra, in all her glory. I got to name her myself, and I named her after an old WoW character of mine. Of course.

I’ll write more about how I made the costume in another post, but suffice it to say, I had fun as her, and I look forward to kicking puppies and taking candy from babies in future events.

In Summary

Really, if anything should be clear from what I’ve just written, it’s why this game has garnered so many players. It has an experienced and caring staff, a good site, and a fascinating world to play around in. I’m kind of wishing I were a player, but I will be more than happy to continue being an NPC. I hope that if you were on the fence about this game, you’ll consider giving it a chance — on either side of Monster Camp!

Shadows’ End

This weekend was the last event of Shadows of Amun, the campaign larp I’ve been NPCing since August 2013. It was my first campaign boffer larp, in fact, and the one that has formed my ideal of what that sort of game should be.

In that time, I’ve been…

  • Hahanzi of the Dom, daughter of an Elder and a crime lord, and almost-victim of his continued immortality,
  • Queen Maria Komnene of Jerusalem, trying to forge peace in the wake of the second Crusade, via tea and flirtation,
  • Penny, a.k.a. Penelope Q. Dreadful, the scarab proto-queen gifted to Mrs. Loring, later progenitor of MI-13’s scarab army,
  • Nephthys, Egyptian goddess of darkness, lamentation, the night sky, and many other things; the night-bark to Duat.

… and many other smaller roles — Well Dark-Eyes, the Fida’in fangirl; Amisi the aggrieved widow; vengeful slave Cassia; Julia, Senator Picens’ art expert; Artemisia Gentileschi; the angel Minevah; to name just a few.

Maria Komnene, Queen of Jerusalem, in 1168

All in all, it was a good run, and I am sad to see it go. It was a part of my life four times a year for nearly three years, and while I was sometimes reluctant to get out there and hit things, I always ended up enjoying myself. Along the way, I made new friends, caused lots of trouble, and helped to create something beautiful.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, too, you can look back at some of my old LJ posts about the game.

Return to the Sceptered Isles, part two: Consequences

Yes, I was in England in November. Yes, this has been a long time coming.

On the second part of my transatlantic trip, I flew to London and took the train to Christchurch, Dorset, in order to attend Imaginary Consequences, a larp convention.

This is my third year attending Consequences, but it’s never been exactly the same trip twice. This year, taking the train was the new part. I did not account for the fact that I would not have a place to stash my ginormous suitcase on Southwest Rail trains, nor the fact that I’d have to change at Clapham Junction, one of the busiest exchanges on the line, nor that I’d have to drag said suitcase up two flights of stairs at said station because there wasn’t an escalator or elevator.

Ah well. The best I can say is that we managed, and arrived at Naish Holiday Village, where most everything was more familiar to us. We shared a lodge with Tony and Elyssia, as well as two of their friends who I hadn’t met before — Steve and David.

I found the latter utterly fascinating to talk to about history, especially legal history, as he’s been a lawyer for many years. From him I learned why judges in the UK wear black (apparently they’re still in mourning. For Queen Anne), and what the difference between a barrister and a solicitor was (which made the relationship between Eugene and Mortimer in Our Mutual Friend make a lot more sense). David also runs a vaguely 17th-century, 7th Sea-inspired tabletop campaign where the characters just went through the Siege of La Rochelle, so we spent some time discussing that era in history, too.

My schedule was light at Consequences — I only played in three games, and one of them was an off-schedule private run of a game after the con ended. This is due to having more trouble than usual signing up this year; I think more people than ever were in attendance. (The 4pm Eastern signup time wasn’t great, either, but it’s probably the best option available).

As a result, I spent a lot of time in the board gaming room. (Where I played new-to-me games Kingdom Builders, Mysterium, and Among Nobles).

Anyway! To the larps!

My first game was Músþéof, a 2-hour game by Dave Collis. I signed up for this game largely for the “Mouseguard/ Anglosaxon/ Amber setting,” which intrigued me, because cutthroat politics with fuzzy animals sounds like fun. I’ve played in Dave (and his co-conspirator Ben’s) Amber games before and found them entertaining, so I figured this would be much the same.

The characters are the members of three mús (mouse) guard patrols returning from harrowing missions, reporting on and dealing with what they’ve found. The world around them is crumbling in various dramatic ways; on top of that, there’s a schism between believers of the Old and New Gods (the new being the princes of Amber), and some old family rivalries, which are tearing the mouse community apart from the inside.

As Asmindr Whitecloak, the de facto leader of a patrol gone horribly wrong, I spent the first half of this game locked in a room with the rest of the patrol, trying to decide what we were going to tell the others about what happened on our patrol. The rest of the game… was a lot of yelling. (This happened in the straight-up Amber game I played, too). We tried to agree on what threat we were going to deal with first and who was going to lead us, but came to no conclusions. Accusations were made of murder plotted in the past. More yelling, and fighting.

I think I ended the game by scurrying off with a group of other mús to a supposed promised land?

I’m not sure what to make of this game. It was too short to ever be boring, but I felt sort of adrift, uncertain how I felt about the terrible things I’d just seen, and uncertain what to do about it, or where my loyalties lay. I knew I was a follower of the old gods, but other than that I had no strong feelings about what happened to my character.

While the world-building is a real strength of this game, I feel it could use more structure in terms of what happens when you return from patrols and how decisions are made among the mús. There didn’t seem to be any mechanic to resolve any of our various conflicts, which is what contributed to the resolution-by-loudness, I think.

There was cheese served, and I got to wear fleece pajamas to game, though, so no complaints 🙂

My Saturday evening game was The Dying of the Light, a Peaky game by Nickey Barnard, Tym Norris, Ray Hodson, Richard Evans, Mike Snowden, and Alli Mawhinney. This game takes place on a near-future Earth on the edge of ecological disaster. You play a leader of a world government or organization at the Omega Conference, which everyone agrees is probably the last resort to keep the world from ending entirely.

My character was Rachel Stahley of the Neo-Luddites (a faction I continually referred to as Space Amish, even though space was not involved in any way). The Neo-Luddites were shepherding what remained of the world’s agriculture, and were eager to keep it that way. While being very traditional-minded, Rachel was up to some very non-traditional activities. (My costuming, incidentally, was my ever-versatile black layered dress and a white lace shawl). She was also, in many interesting ways, a character I probably wouldn’t normally play — but I’m glad I had the chance to, mostly due to a lot of casting issues.

I think I did pretty well in terms of my personal plot in this game (to say more would be spoilery), though the NeoLs definitely did not get what they wanted (which was a reduction in technology and a return to the “old ways”). We averted a few terrible disasters, but I think at the end of game we were all about to die of the avian death flu… so. Don’t know how successful the conference as a whole was, then!

I didn’t interact at all with the hacking mechanic (no surprise there), but from the outside it looked interesting, and fairly streamlined. (Apparently in the first run they had tried to use Netrunner as the hacking mechanic which… did not work so well).

What this game taught me, most importantly, was that a group of Bill Clinton clones is properly referred to as an “orgy.”

Finally, I played in a private run of Burning Orchid (Ben Allen, Nickey Barnard, Martin Jones, Heidi Kaye and Alison Rider Hill) on Sunday afternoon, after the con was officially over. This was probably my favorite game of the con.

The game is set in 1932 at the wrap party of a movie, Burning Orchid — “detailing the passionate heart of a claustrophobic forbidden love story set in the jungle villages of Guatemala against a background of a country riven by political turmoil. And that’s not just the movie!”

I played Judy Gardner, a supporting actress in the titular film, just getting her footing in the movie business.

… aaaand I pretty much spent my entire game sitting in a corner, blubbing at Graham A, who played my co-star.

This is not usually the sort of game you would think of me liking — it’s plot-light, character-heavy and emotionally intense — but I did, and in spades. I would love to see it run at Intercon some year, as I think there’s a lot for that crowd to love. Heck, I’d love to do a private run of it myself.

And that was my con! I didn’t even stick around through Monday, as I did last year, since I had an early-morning flight to catch.

You can’t Intercon P enough (con report)

Intercon Pirates! — I feel the exclamation point is necessary — was this past weekend. Despite some preliminary anxiety, this was probably one of my low-key and unstressful Intercons ever.

This was our first year at a new hotel, as our beloved Chelmsford Radisson told us it was washing its hair every weekend for the rest of forever. Instead we found ourselves at the Doubletree in Westborough, MA, and on a weekend two weeks before our usual date. This meant that the biggest LARP event of the year for me conflicted with Boskone, which I had dearly wanted to attend. (I did end up sneaking off to visit with friends at Boskone on Saturday).

I arrived at the con late on Thursday afternoon. I was still easing into extroversion after a rough winter, so I admit I spent a good chunk of that evening hiding out in my room (or a friend’s) playing Crusader Kings II instead of going to panels or socializing. However, I did attend parts of…


I made it to the Renaissance Dance workshop led by larper and SCA dancemaster Justin, which was a lot of fun. We spanned several centuries, learning bransles, allemanes, and even some English country dance. It’s always funny to me how many similarities I can find with contra dance — which I do a lot of — and yet how blasted bad I can still be at it. I have a left/right problem, which doesn’t help.

The other pre-con event that stands out for me was The Social Contract of LARPing panel on Friday afternoon, which was near and dear to my heart after a post I wrote years ago on just that topic. I already knew, going in, about the many unspoken assumptions of the larp community (and the Intercon community in particular); but this brought to light many I hadn’t thought about in depth. It made me think of Alyssa Wong’s recent words on convention culture: “If that’s the pervasive culture of your convention, that’s not intentional malice; that’s people moving naturally within a toxic milieu.” I doubt anything Intercon is doing is quite that bad, but that doesn’t mean our milieu isn’t unwelcoming, or that we don’t occasionally brush off concerns about being unfriendly as outsiders not knowing the culture.

(Relatedly, very glad to see that this year Intercon has a code of conduct and a dedicated security staff keeping it safe).

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Between… was my first game, billed as “a swashbuckling occult four hour one-shot boffer game using the Accelerant rules told over a number of scenarios,” written by Dave Kapell, Alex Bradley, and Larisa Allen. From the moment I saw this game on the schedule I knew I had to play, if only because it listed Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides as one of its influences. It was very much in demand, and closed in the first signup slot — but not before I got in.

Caroline Skive

I played Caroline Skive, the first mate of the Red Lady, with my mother (played by Jen B) as captain, and my sister (Hannah R) as the captain of the rival ship the Shatterjack. My goals revolved around reuniting my family and seeing what sort of terrible trouble — foretold by the tarot card readings I’d done — awaited us.

To be honest, most of that personal plot felt unimportant for a big chunk of the game. The scenarios that made up the game were largely about crew goals, like acquiring a new ship, raiding the governor’s mansion, and finding our way to a certain cave of wonders. This is fine — I wasn’t bored, but I would have liked to feel more personal connection to the character. It was clear that family was important to Caroline, but I had a hard time living that in game. Maybe I was just having trouble easing into character given that I hadn’t larped in a while… or maybe it’s due to another problem I experienced in this game — my level of immersion.

My immersion/ability to stay IC was rather low, which is unfortunate, considering this is usually a strength of “what you see is what you get” systems like Accelerant. I think part of it was that there were a number of players who were inexperienced with the system, and some coaching was necessary. That sort of meta discussion often drives me out of character. (This isn’t a complaint — I’m glad that new people are trying Accelerant, and overall they did really well — but it’s just an aspect of the situation).

Also there were some confusing rules arbitration moments — at one point I acquired a ritual that I misunderstood the usage of, in part due to some calls that were written incorrectly. Of course I didn’t realize this until AFTER I’d already used it wrongly. Dave pulled me aside and explained how it was supposed to work, which meant I had to retcon what I had already done. That never works out well, and in a WYSYWYG system, it’s even harder to swallow.

On the plus side for immersion, the claustrophobia engendered by the “ships” — tables arranged into a boat-like shape, with a limited number of places to sit — was very real. The lighting and sound design was also really good. I wish there had been the sort of neat interactive props Dave is known for, but perhaps this wasn’t a game that called for that.

Also, as my character sheet indicated I put a lot of stock in fortune-telling, I brought a tarot deck, and enjoyed doing impromptu tarot readings — which turned out to be surprisingly apt at times. Why yes, the seven of pentacles does accurately describe what’s going to happen when we raid the governor’s mansion!

Overall, I found this game enjoyable, but a little rough around the edges still. It’s nothing that can’t be refined, however, and I would definitely recommend future runs to others.

Costuming: Since Fair Escape will almost certainly want to hear details on this. This was pulled together entirely out of my costuming closet. The shirt was a white linen shirt from Matt’s costume collection, the pants and boots were street clothes, the belt and pouch were the ones I use for Ianthe in 5G, and the earrings were ones I used NPCing as the Queen of Jerusalem in 12th century Shadows of Amun. Everything else — sash, jewelry, coin pouch — was all just random tat I had lying around. I had actually found a coat at Savers that I wanted to use as a pirate coat, but when I tried it on with the full costume, it just didn’t work.


On Saturday morning I played in 1493, by Betsy Isaacson and Elisabeth Cohen. As I understand it, this game was written for sixth graders to teach the age of exploration in Western history. Given that, it is basically historical in scope (with some small adjustments to make female characters have more agency), with no weird supernatural stuff going on.

The writing of the game materials, on the whole, was simple — as befits something aimed at 6th graders — but not dumbed-down; it tackled some complex political and religious concepts.

Cardinal Cesare Borgia. “You look ready to kill some musketeers,” someone told me.

This was the first of two games where I was cross-cast this weekend — this time as Cardinal Cesare Borgia. I joked that my character sheet was basically, “My dad’s the Pope! I do what I want!” but I mean no slight by that. The character’s goals evolve quite naturally from that, and they kept me busy the whole game. Having great co-conspirators (Kelly D. as Alessandro Farnese and Katie G. as Ludovico Sforza) was also a ton of fun. (I had serious beard envy of Sforza. I know Katie plays a dude in 5G Wrathborn, so she knows her way around a facial toupee).

As Cesare, I succeeded in getting the Papacy declared a hereditary peerage (ruled by the Borgias, natch), gave the Pope’s blessing to Princess Margaret’s unborn child, and married the Duchess of Brittany (Quinn D), who became a queen again when I freed her from French tyranny by annulling her marriage to the King of France.

I feel this is a strong game, and would definitely recommend it. If I have complaints, they were more about the length of the game — at two hours, it felt too short for the amount of plot I had. On the other hand, other characters looked a bit lost, such as the folks playing the natives of the New World. I also know Matt (playing Prince John of Asturias) was annoyed to discover that even preventing a succession crisis in Spain didn’t keep France from taking over; he felt he was pretty much doomed to failure, with no way to stop that.

Costuming: I purchased a plain black trench coat and turned the collar under to use as a cassock. The red capelet and cardinal hat (not really shown in the picture) were borrowed from Alison, who had a whole bunch of them made for her game Venezia. The beard was drawn on with black and brown eyeliner.

Congress of Vienna

Congress of Vienna, by Ben Philip and Kristen Patten, is very much your standard secrets-and-powers larp, taking place in 1815 at the titular conference. Historically, the Congress of Vienna pieced Europe back together post-Napoleon. In-game, well… things were a little different.

This game does say in its description that it is a political game “with some weirdness,” so I went in expecting a certain amount of magic and/or supernatural elements. But what I really liked about this game is that it wasn’t about those elements, and while I could look on and watch crazy shit happen like Louis XVI coming back from the dead and King George III becoming magically sane again, it didn’t actually affect what I was there to do — the political sausage-making of creating a treaty.

I played Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, representing Great Britain’s delegation at the Congress. Castlereagh is a real historical figure, apparently so hated by Lord Byron that the poet wrote a eulogy inviting people to piss on his grave. As far as I can tell Castlereagh was one of the major players in the actual Congress; he is largely responsible for how Europe got divided up, which kept the peace until WWI.

It’s a spoiler — but only a minor one — to say that Castlereagh is one of the most mundane characters in that game. And his normalness is his fucking superpower.

This is illustrated by ability usage — a lot of the diplomats had a “tell me what you really think” ability to look at other player’s goals. So, people would use this ability on Castlereagh, and get things like, “make sure a treaty is signed,” “protect your family,” or “make sure the King is safe.” I’d use the same ability on them, and get things like, “figure out who is trying to steal your body.”

I pretty much got what I wanted in this game. Great Britain doesn’t have all that much of a horse in the division-of-Europe race, so mostly Castlereagh wanted to balance power on the Continent. The one issue where I couldn’t get traction was the annexation of Saxony by Prussia, but it was clear to me that I wouldn’t hold up the treaty just for that. I also got both Austria and Prussia into the German Confederacy, and made sure that if Russia wanted the Grand Duchy of Poland, they had to at least constitute it from their own land. I still think Austria is over-powerful, but maybe we’ll prevent WWI for a few extra years in this timeline.

I had a few moments of concern when King George suddenly became sane again, and indicated he wanted to take my place at the treaty table. However, after getting briefed on the state of the treaty, he told me, “you know what you’re doing, you know what I want, I’ll leave it in your capable hands,” and ran off to do mystical stuff involving the spiritual leader of Europe. I’m not sure if that was the player realizing he would basically end my game if he did that, or if the character just had other stuff to do.

Overall, I thought it was brilliant –and rare — that despite being Captain Normal in a game with a lot of weirdness, I got to the end and didn’t feel like I’d been playing the wrong game. Other stuff was clearly happening, but what I accomplished still felt real.

Also, I am really sad that I didn’t have more of an IC reason to interact with Lafayette (Alex P), or to give the King of Saxony (Aaron N) what he wanted. The players clearly knew their history, and it was interesting just to talk to them on that level — even if only after the game.

Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh

Costuming: this was probably my most involved costume — but it was still almost entirely thrifted! Following instructions in Instant Period Costumes, one of my favorite thrift-costume books, I turned a men’s suit — $15 at Savers — into a Regency-era tailcoat. I added slim-leg white pants from Target, my riding boots, a white Victorian-ish shirt recycled from a Hellsing cosplay, and a cravat I threw together in 30 minutes with leftover eyelet lace and hot glue. Oh, and Mel loaned me a hat. I brought along a men’s waistcoat to wear underneath the tailcoat, but it ended up too long for the high-cut coat, so I didn’t end up using it.

And Now, For Something Completely Different…

Those were basically my games — which meant that functionally, my con ended at 6pm on Saturday. Given that, I decided to take a trip into Boston and visit with folks at Boskone. In particular, I wanted to see my dear friend Django and his girlfriend Casey. Living across the country, I hadn’t seen him since… 2007? 2008? and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity when he was actually in my neck of the woods. I also had never met Casey before, and wanted an introduction.

It turned out to be a strange “six degrees of separation” experience. I knew going in that Casey was a Viable Paradise grad, the same year as my larp pal and VP16 grad Kevin/Kellan — I, of course, am VP17. I figured we’d have something to talk about in that regard.

What I didn’t know beforehand was that Casey was also a Vassar grad — class of 2010 to my class of 2003. Moreover, she’d been involved in the NSO, the geek club I was an officer of. She was interested to learn that I had been part of the team that founded Noncon, Vassar’s annual SFF convention. We talked about the craziness of the English department at Vassar, the disorganization of the NSO library, what dorms were considered party dorms when she attended, etc.

(Even weirder degress of connectedness: Congress of Vienna, the game I was coming from, is written by Ben Philip, not-so-secretly known as Benjamin C. Kinney, VP19 grad, and Vassar class of 2002. Also an NSO officer and co-founder of Noncon).

I felt a little guilty because I think I spent more time reminiscing with Casey about Vassar than I did talking to Django! I do love it when I meet someone’s S.O. and they turn out to be even more awesome than I had hoped. In my defense, we did also talk our respective writing projects, Django’s books, anime, and various SFF fannishness.

Eventually we headed to the bar to play board games with other writerly folks — Fran Wilde (or, as we were all calling her that night, “Nebula award-nominated Fran Wilde”), and another VP16er, Lauren Roy, and their husbands. We played Code Names, a party game by Vlaada Chvatil, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Max Gladstone joined us for the final round, and helped turn his team’s loss into a victory — surprising no one, it is a game he is really good at.

Alas, I had to leave shortly thereafter — I didn’t know when the T stopped running, and I was depending on it to get back to my car.

The Rest of Intercon

The rest of the con was mostly pretty uneventful! I didn’t go to closing ceremonies, which is rare for me. I did find out that Cafe Casablanca is running in October in Chicago, which I have already signed up for — I’ve been wanting to play for a while. I ended up going to lunch with Mel, Will, Kevin R., and a bunch of RPI grads, which was as much of a dead-dog party as I got.

Overall, it was a pleasant weekend, and it makes me want to start writing larps again. A dangerous pastime, that…