in Blog, LARP

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

HOLY SHIT GUYS THERE WERE ~180 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.

ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY.

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.

Scheduling/logistics

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.

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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!

  1. A couple notes:

    1. That photo of yours is really pretty. Kudos on the costume.

    2. Legacies, which has around 70-80 PCs and runs indefinitely on a monthly schedule, encourages PCs to take turns NPCing as well, incentivizing them with something called Bribe, roughly equivalent to CP. The one time I went I took a few hours off to be one of a group of goblins pitching a tent outside the PCs’ homebase and coming in to beg for food.

    3. I don’t think it’s inherently more fun to be a PC than an NPC – I had a surprising amount of fun at Cottington as a crunchy. Or has your experience PCing just been massively better than mine was at Legacies?

    • Did I give the impression that PCing was more fun than NPCing? I certainly didn’t mean to! Mostly I say I kind of wish I was PCing because I find the Dremasque culture so interesting and I could see myself playing one.

      PCing is definitely less work, in some dimensions, since the plot is pretty much set up to come to you. NPCing almost always feels like work — fun work, if you’re lucky, but still work.

  2. Which GoT character was it? Now I’m curious!

    I wasn’t under the impression that Madrigal had a culture of writers not playing the NPCs they wrote (and I didn’t know that about Shadows, but it makes sense and I think it’s a great idea.) Now I’m curious what percentage of major face roles were played by the people who wrote them.

    I knew, with the huge PC population the fights would be skewed. I think the PCs taking shifts NPCing systems were really good, though still not quite sufficient. For one thing, I think Accelerant is an amazing and powerful tool for shaping battles, but wasn’t used to its full potential (which feels funny to me to say, considering who the head of staff was.) It felt like every time I went out, someone was statting the encounter on the fly, which pretty much meant we were using only the most basic builds: extra damage, maims, and agonies (except for the occasional paralyze.) When they needed to re-stat on the fly, they mostly handed out extras of those same Effects and a few more vitality… which is a start, but not sufficient to really alter the flow of battle. (The only battle that had a mechanic to actually address the skewed ratio was the very last one, where someone called an ambient Short Repel if the PCs started wrapping us.)

    If you’re fighting 6 on 1 and getting completely surrounded, you can end up taking 18 damage the moment you close… so going from 4 HP to 8 didn’t really do anything. And I also often had the experience that I was getting cut down without successfully getting off an attack… and while I love crunching, that kind of combat quickly tips the balance over towards “chore” and away from “fun”, and I find, while I hate this about myself, my patience with people swinging too hard or fudging the rules and other stuff wears out much quicker. I felt guilty playing only ranged crunchies after pulling a muscle, since I felt like melee NPCs were getting swamped and could really use more people to slow down the wrapping process from PCs, but with ranged, at least a few of my attacks connected before I got cut down by 6 people at once.

    Also, it bears repeatnig – that orc costume came out amazing!

    • Sadly, I never found out! He asked me if I was familiar with the series, I said, “not really,” and so he left at it “there’s a character from GoT I’m basing this on.” Maybe he’ll chime in here and say, although I’m not sure how active he is on social media. (Just from what little I know of the character and GoT my personal suspicion is Littlefinger, but I’m probably wrong).

      I wasn’t under the impression that Madrigal had a culture of writers not playing the NPCs they wrote

      I think I mis-phrased it — I didn’t mean to imply that they did, simply that it seemed like for most of the mods I went out on, the writers weren’t present as face NPCs. Not sure if that was by design or by accident, or if I’m just noticing patterns where there are none.

      As for Shadows, you can ask Chris S about it — there was an explicit “don’t NPC for plot you write” policy, to avoid the problem where a mod can’t run because the writer has gotten stuck out talking to the PCs for hours. I’m not sure how strictly enforced it was, but in general I found it a good thing. Else none of Kathy’s mods would have ever run on a weekend where she had to play Cleopatra 😉

      Cottington, as you know, did not do that, and so much of our schedule lateness was “where’s Michelle? we need her to run this mod!”

      I think Accelerant is an amazing and powerful tool for shaping battles, but wasn’t used to its full potential

      I agree with this — hopefully the staff will learn from the experience and spice up the battles a bit more in the future. I also agree that the undead pirate battle was the best of the lot, and I hope that’s a sign of overall improvement.

      • I think I misphrased my reply — I didn’t mean to imply you thought that the staff had that culture, just that you and I got different impressions of what patterns might exist.

        I’m surprised about the reasoning behind the Shadows rule — isn’t it just as likely that whoever gets cast as the NPC will get stuck out talking to PCs (or fighting, or waiting for them) for hours?
        I guess writing it for someone else means there is pressure to write them out with enough instruction and clarity that anyone can run it, and NPCs can be recast on the fly (barring other factors, like the NPC already being played by someone specific, or someone has prepped extensive costuming for it.)

        The bigger advantage I see in it is is that it reduces incentive to write scenes where the NPC is the star, and it encourages more even distribution of face roles.

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