This past Saturday I NPCed for Witchwood at 4-H Camp Middlesex in Ashby, MA (a.k.a. Camp Stairmaster, Camp Fuck-That-Hill). As I said earlier, this destination was chosen mostly due to its proximity to my house — it’s about ten miles away, which on twisty country roads is about 25 mins.
I had a fine time, with some really fun moments, but there was some awkwardness of adjusting to a new system, group of people, setting, and site.
(Take everything I’m about to say with a grain of salt, as I was only there for one day).
The site, first — indeed, fuck that hill. I only had to climb it one time (while wearing a skeleton face-mask, and having to fight at the top), but that satisfied all my exercise needs for the week. The campsite really is just uphill both ways, even if you’re not scaling Mt. Stairmaster — it’s a climb to the dining hall, or back to your car, too.
And tick-ful. I found (I think) a dog tick crawling on me when I was changing my costume mid-day. I smooshed it with extreme prejudice. I am unsurprised by this, as I live in tick-endemic New England, and I’ve never had a worse time of it than in my own backyard.
Also biting flies, which are less than fun, but at least not bearers of terrible disease.
But here, I’m making it sound like a bad site, and it really isn’t — the site was in good repair and was located beside a lovely winding river. The lower field, where a lot of mods happened, definitely lent the sense of a village green to the fantasy town of Oak Harbor. The Monster Camp had no less than three bathrooms over two floors, with plenty of space for props and costuming.
Interestingly enough, I knew the players better than I knew the staff! The staff is mostly MIT grads, some of whom I know (i.e. laura47, Beth B, Peter L, Will L, etc), but many of whom I don’t. The players, on the other hand, were mostly familiar to me; this was a “starter” boffer larp for a lot of theater-style larpers, and I saw many people I mostly know from the Intercon community (i.e. Matt K, Kindness, Nuance, Seamus, Peter C — in fact one of my plots was called “make Peter feel bad about his life and his choices”).
It was also funny to have Matt go out in the same clothes he wears as his Cottington Woods PC, saying “Well, there’s no one here who has seen me as Johan”… only to walk right past Abrihette — who he not only plays Cottington with, but works closely with (i.e. she also plays a Sandman).
As for staff organization… well, in some ways it felt more disorganized than I am used to, but still very functional. For example, there’s no hour-based scheduling of modules. Mods are generally organized into what rough time period they will go out in (i.e. “Friday night,” “Saturday afternoon,” etc) and “fishbowl” mods, that can go out at any time. So it’s hard to say you’re running behind so long as your mod happens in approximately the right timeframe.
On the downside, it’s really hard to know if a building is in use with this system, and I several times overheard confusion on account of this. There was a ginormous board for keeping track of what mods were “on deck,” “running,” and “reported,” but no one seemed terribly committed to keeping it up to date (and as an NPC who showed up for one day, I wasn’t exactly empowered to update it myself).
Food in Monster Camp was also somewhat limited compared to other games I’ve been at (says the fat girl).
Overall, though, I’d say Witchwood does a good job of delegating writing and running mods to multiple people; staff seemed empowered to make their own plots happen. I worked closely with Kat, who was running several PCs’ personal plots, and with Ken C., who seemed to be organizing the field fights.
The setting, too, was a challenge to learn, but one I appreciated. It is in many ways traditional high fantasy, but with interesting twists and unique detail. Players choose from a number of different cultures and races; these are distinct axes, but also have pairs that go together (i.e. it often makes sense for characters of the galatura race to be from the Hurzicht culture). Some of the cultures clearly take inspiration from human cultures — although the association is never explicitly stated, it becomes clear from artwork, names, and costuming. (The Felicitoro, for example, give a very Renaissance Italian feel). I think this is a fine way to handle such associations without falling into parody of a real culture.
One other interesting thing is that Witchwood explicitly forbids anything having to do with rape or religion from game materials and character histories. Moreover, not only is it forbidden, but it is a world in which such things are presumed to not exist. I feel like this is a bold step, but one I definitely encourage. Relatedly, I think Witchwood is the only game I’ve ever heard of having a Code of Conduct.
Overall, the impression was one of a world stretching out beyond what I inhabited as an NPC… and I wanted more time to explore it! Already Kat is trying to coax me to come back and RP as a Velliar scholar, since she thinks the academic culture will appeal to me. (It does!)
Plot in this game tends towards the small and personal. As I’ve already said, there was a mod I was on which Kat called, “Make Peter regret his life and his choices.” Another mod was very much aimed at two other players of my acquaintance.
There were bigger threats to the town of Oak Harbor — like the undead, chimera beasts, the battle at the Bulwark between Void and Vigor, etc — but none of them seemed to dominate the day.
But maybe this is the consequence of a) being there for only one day, and not being in any major face roles, or b) coming in midway through an ongoing campaign.
I think my biggest complaints are about the rules system — although it’s hard to know how much is my relative unfamiliarity vs. actual flaws in the system. I will preface my criticism by saying that my only exposure to live-combat larp has been Accelerant, and that has quickly become the standard by which I judge everything.
Combat just… feels weird in this game, in a way I find hard to articulate. It has something to do with the rhythm, I think? Without a flurry rule — and with too few PCs and NPCs to really form a line fight — so much of fighting just devolved into standing in doorways flailing endlessly at each other.
I say “too few PCs and NPCs for a line fight,” but there were probably 25-30 on each side. It’s just… most of them seemed less interested in combat, and tried to avoid it? Like, I went out on a mod which was basically, “give the PCs a chance to gank you,” and wasn’t attacked. So, you know. That’s a thing. I appreciate roleplaying out of combat as much as the next girl, but when all you have is a boffer staff, everything looks like a legal target area…
Players also can buy a skill that allows them to tap out of combat by crossing their arms over their chest and saying “Repose”; they can then call “Ward” to any attacks directed at them. It really was drummed home that these players were averse to conflict when we assaulted the teahouse and found half of the players reposing. It’s intended to be a way for characters to be present and witness combat without participating, and while I think that’s a cool goal, it’s easy to see when the players are just Done with fighting.
A lot of the “flailing in doorways” came from the sheer amount of turtling the PCs were doing. Even though they outnumbered us skeletons in the teahouse fight, for example, they stayed inside and only occasionally used their talismans to repel us. A similar thing happened when we assaulted the tavern as chimera beasts.
(Funny story related to that mod: Matt went out as a fox-eagle — full face fox mask and an eagle mask on his hand. It was fucking creepy. This led to the quote:
“What does the fox-eagle say?”
“Whhhhhhyyyy was I made? Please let me die!”)
I also found the calls hard to hear, as they were almost all one word (i.e. “Venom,” “Subdue,” etc) without the “by [trait]” calls of Accelerant. Which, when you’re standing beside a rushing stream, or wearing a full-face mask, tend to get lost. Several times I could not figure out what (if any) effect was supposed to have gone off, even after asking for a clarification. By losing the flavor traits of Accelerant, you get fewer cues to piece together what is actually happening. I didn’t think it would make a difference, but it does, and wildly so.
There’s also the fact that you can also use reach weapons (like staves and polearms) one-handed, which is just weird. One time, terrible-fighter-me strode up to a line of PCs — the one time there was a line of PCs –and heard, “oh no, she’s got reach!” It’s seriously like a superpower in this game.
My favorite mod
This turned out to be an unexpected one — playing a grindelow (water fae) who was very upset that they had found this body in the forest whose heart they couldn’t eat. I was teamed up with Matt and Chrisco (as fellow grindelow) and Kat (as the body in stasis, immune to our attacks). The sound grindelows make, I was told, is a “warp” sound, and we were soon warping in chorus with each other and the spring peepers in the wetlands nearby.
Mostly, I was told, we were there to fall down when the PCs hit us. But grindelows do have a Subdue — basically they can hit someone on the back between the shoulders, and if the target is surprised, it knocks them unconscious. “But you probably won’t get a chance to use it,” Kat told me. “Unless someone turns their back on you.”
Kindness, as his PC Galen, turned his back on me.
He got Subdued.
I mean, it was really meaningless, and totally just for RP purposes — we had already been driven off, and I was slain shortly thereafter (and thrown into the nearby river).
But it was such a perfect moment –such a perfect target! — I had to take it.
The final analysis
How likely I am to come back and NPC for Witchwood again?
Well, the location close to my house is a real plus. So is the setting, which I’m interested in learning more about. In fact, I suspect Kat has already convinced me to come back and be a Velliar scholar of some stripe.
On the other hand, I did not love the fights or the non-Accelerant rules. Also, while it offers a CP exchange/cast swap with 5G, it isn’t one with a bonus.
I think in the final analysis, I’ll be back, but I will still have to prioritize other games I NPC for higher than this.