I often don’t feel like I do enough NPCing for boffer LARPs, so I was really excited when I got the chance to NPC for Fifth Gate: Wrathborn and Madrigal 3 over the past few weekends.
Fifth Gate is two campaigns in one. Two events per year take place in the high fantasy Silverfire world, and two events per year take place in the post-apocalyptic Wrathborn world. And for one event in the winter, the Champions of Silverfire and the Survivors of Wrathborn cross paths and have one large event together. I’ve been PCing in Silverfire, but I hadn’t yet NPCed for Wrathborn, as lots of players do. For the first year, I was avoiding learning things about the Wrathborn world out-of-character so that I could genuinely learn it all for the first time when I met the Survivors during the capstone winter event. I know the staff makes an effort not to spoil Fifth Gate players when they NPC for the other world (which many do, as there’s bonus CP to be had) but I still wanted to be certain.
But now that the first capstone event has come and gone, I wanted to give back to the game (especially the Wrathborn PCs who often NPC for us Silverfire folk), get to know the staff a bit, and maybe learn a little bit about how the sausage was made.
I spent the weekend mostly crunching. I had expected to do nothing but (or almost nothing but) crunching. Mindless combat foes are the easiest roles to give out while minimizing spoilers (I now know a fair amount about the setting of Wrathborn, but there are always ongoing plots to spoil.) I did occasionally ask for the story behind some of the encounters and got back, “sorry, can’t tell Silverfire players” but I did get to chat for awhile with PCs in two encounters, which actually puts this weekend on the higher end for amount of time spent talking to PCs instead of just fighting them as mooks while NPCing for a boffer campaign.
The crunchy roles were corrupted wolves, Black Sun cultists, and undead. Lots and lots of undead.
The players also had two encounters in which they ventured into a population of people where signs of plague was spreading, and had to determine who among them had contracted the plague. Healthy people behaved more or less normally, those infected but who had not yet succumbed were confused and disoriented, and those who had succumbed would mindlessly attack. I cycled through as people at all different levels. The infected level was the most fun to play, what with acting confused, forgetting that they had already introduced themselves, and thinking their names were my name. I think it tugged on their heartstrings to have to put down someone they were talking to who wasn’t violent yet. I found it interesting that they were willing to search for loot through the pockets of someone who attacked them right off the bat, but not search the pockets of someone they had spoken to and then had to put down, even though both sets of people were infected by the same plague.
In another module, the players immersed themselves in a vision from another world with a Western flavor, where they met the regulars at a local saloon and a mine outside of town. First I played Mr. Casterly, the owner of the saloon, and welcomed the players and tried to seed our conversations with information about the location and current events. Another observation I found interesting — players used female pronouns for me even after I introduced myself to them as “Mr. Casterly” and I think one or two assumed I was the mayor (the female NPC they were expecting to meet). Crosscasting is just far less common in boffer, I think. Maybe the “Mr.” didn’t register, or maybe it was easier to assume a female character wanted to be called Mr. than a female LARPer would be playing a male character?
On Sunday, the last fight involved the PCs taking on various people inhabited by the spirits of various types of storms. I played the spirit of the Thunderstorms. I played it as a ranged caster; my Silverfire character is a Tempest archer, and I knew this module would likely tie back into Tempest training, and I wanted to see how the mechanics worked out in ranged fighting. (I think the Survivors are possibly being set up to teach the Tempest Champions about the nature of the various storms.)
One of the Thunderstorm abilities was “Short frenzy and short repel,” which was great fun to use. Survivors would attempt to charge me, seeing that I had no melee weapon to defend myself with if they closed, and I would try to tag them with the Frenzy, which caused them to attack the nearest available person indiscriminately; the Repel directed them away from me. Frenzy is one of my favorite effects in Accelerant. I don’t know if it will become available for my Tempest archer to pick up, but if it is, I’d love to pick up the skill.
Madrigal 3 is the third chapter of one of the earliest Accelerant campaigns, headed by the guy who created the Accelerant system. The first two were very popular, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I joined a Facebook group called the “Mad Squee 3 Club” to follow updates on the setting and rules as they were released and join in on the conversations as people excitedly planned their characters’ histories, builds, and costuming. The enthusiasm was pretty infectious. For a long time I dithered about PCing or NPCing, but inspiration to create a character never struck me, even though the setting had lots of elements that really appealed to me. (Seriously, what costuming diva could resist a nation whose fashion trends are described as “[t]o say their clothing is theatrical is an understatement…”?), so in the end I defaulted to NPCing. I later found out Madrigal isn’t putting a cap on players, and they wound up with around 180 players, which over double what the typical Accelerant campaign in New England has, so I think they could really have used an additional NPC!
The site for Madrigal is a really nice one — the YMCA Camp Woodstock in Woodstock, CN. It’s a really large site, large enough that they often lease it out to multiple groups at once, and it has lots of nice features and areas for modules. And I was really impressed with how far the players went to create atmosphere. On top of tons of really incredible costuming, they set up a lot of set dressing in the tavern and in the spaces between their cabins, to make the space really immersive.
And the building we used as Monster Camp is large and comfortable, with large bathrooms and a kitchen and a big porch overlooking the lake. It was a really nice time to hang out between modules.
I spent most of the weekend at Madrigal crunching as hobgoblins, shadows, werewolf-like werelings, and on Sunday as the undead spirits of pirates. To help bolster the NPC numbers for the very large PC population, they had a system both for PCs to sign up in advance to volunteer for NPC shifts (which were organized in a way to help PCs avoid missing out on plotlines of interest to their individual characters) and the “Scarlet Scouts,” which would go out and collect PC volunteers during the event (in exchange for treasure.) The additional numbers helped make the battles less of a “meat-grind,” for NPCs. At one point, I heard PCs remarking on how they were now aware of some of the issues with other PCs swinging too hard, and what crunching in such uneven numbers was like, which was kinda nice to hear from them.
I also briefly went out as an elf from the Silken Call, a nationality with a goth-inspired culture that heavily indulges in a spider motif. I had spotted some black stretch velvet with silver sparkly spider webs and spiders in Jo-ann Fabrics, and I liked it so much, I bought a few yards and a very simple pattern and threw a dress together in the week leading up to Madrigal. Which then meant I needed to find an excuse to wear it, so I went out briefly at dinnertime to meet some of the PC Spidersilk elves. Sadly, I never spotted any of the Spidersilk elves in this role, but it was still nice to get an excuse to trot out the dress. I’ll have to app for some fairy tale villainess roles in some theater LARPs and get more excuses to wear it.
On Sunday, I had my favorite crunchy role of the weekend: the spirits of pirates. Having some basic stereotypes to fall back on (“Arrr, matey!”) made it easy and fun to inject a little roleplay into fighting, despite being tired and hot. I also liked that one of the staff members introduced a mechanic to keep the NPCs from getting completely wrapped and/or having all of the melee fighter NPCs from fighting 5 (or more) on 1 for the entire fight. Every now and then, he would call “Ambient Short Repel by Waves” to indicate the motion of the sea was pushing them back, which helped keep the NPCs from getting swamped, and I think that in turn helps make the battle a little more challenging for the players.
I spotted a number of the new style of packet bows, which resemble slingshots shaped like bows, on the field over the weekend, mostly among PCs, though monster camp had one or two, too. I’ve spotted them a couple of times at Fifth Gate, and tried them out once. They’re a lot of fun to use, and get way more range than simply throwing packets. They work best with packets with short tails, to keep them from hitting the strings. I know there’s been some concern over how hard they hit, so I will say got hit with them a few times over the weekend and for the most part, it didn’t hurt. I would love to get one myself, though in the name of complete disclosure, I will say that I would understand if some players weren’t thrilled with the bows. I did take one shot to the throat that stung quite a lot, though it wasn’t close ranged.
(If you’d like to read more about NPCing for Madrigal 3, there’s a great post on it here.)
I think the best part of NPCing both Wrathborn and Madrigal 3, for me, was the opportunity to hang out with other members of the community in Monster Camp between modules. PCing doesn’t afford many out-of-character socializing and bonding opportunities, especially with the standard Accelerant “you’re in character 24 hours a day, throughout the entire weekend” culture. I think the local theater community is a bit better at this kind of community-building — most of the events happen at conventions, where the games are usually four hours long, and we have breaks between them, including meal breaks, that enable us to hang out and get to know one another outside of game. Sometimes boffer players get together after weekend long events for dinner, and there’s some bonding to be had while helping a staff set up, but there are always plenty of players in any given campaign I’ve PCed that I’ve never spoken to out-of-character, and even a number whose real names I never learned. NPCing gave me a chance to get to know some of the people I LARP with better.