Monday, April 9, 2012

An old interview with LARPmag.


An old interview with LARPmag.

(This is a repost of an old interview I did for LARP Magazine in April 2006. You can check them out at

An Interview with Rob Ciccolini, Presenter, Madrigal LARP

1. What's so cool about Live Adventures?

The thing that is cool about Live Adventures is that the experience is highly interactive. Most entertainment today is passive. The audience is not involved. They take the role of observers. They watch the action and live vicariously through the characters. Our society
is almost becoming voyeuristic. Live Adventure events are interactive activities. The audience is not only involved in the ongoing process but they are largely responsible for determining the direction of the story, the action, and the medium as a whole. This puts Live Adventure in a space with very few other activities; organized sporting and paintball leagues, community theatre (for the actors and crew), and maybe karaoke.

The people who become highly involved thrive on interactivity. For many of us, passive entertainment is simply not as interesting. When we see something interesting we want to become involved. Unfortunately it is impossible for us to jump into the screen of a good movie. We cannot involve ourselves directly on the stage of a play. We cannot jump up with the musicians when we go to concerts. By attending a Live Adventure we become in part responsible for the emotion, the excitement, and the passion going on around us.

We are involved in the decision making process, and it allows us to learn through trial and error what works, and what doesn't. Unlike most other interactive activities, we are involved on a number of levels. We can be involved physically and competitively like
organized sports, we can be involved as other characters and play out stories like community theatre, and we can perform and inspire passion like karaoke. Live Adventure events encourage players to be involved in many ways. We become embroiled in the game on physical, social, and intellectual levels.

2. You're the father of numerous innovations and attitudes in LARPing. What cool ideas have you brought to the table?

This is a difficult question to answer. Most of the things I have accomplished have been the result of collaboration with the people I was working with at the time.  Many successes came from the ability to know how to use a good idea and modify it to best take advantage of the context of a specific game and player base. Perhaps my
contributions are more a matter of making tremendous mistakes that the community as a whole could learn from. If I could be known for one thing I think I would want people to
remember me because of the passion I have for the art and the desire to inspire that passion in others. If the stuff I have done has in any way inspired someone else to create and execute a cool encounter, rule set, or setting for some game then I am happy to be considered in that light.

3. Tell me about one of the characters you play.

The characters that stick out in my mind are the characters that successfully break out of my typical archetypes. For example at Atlas Adventures I played a character from New Orleans named Remy that was unique for me in two ways. First, he talked with an accent. Second, he was an entertainer. These things were completely new to me. I had never done an accent before, and I certainly had not sung in front of an audience at any LARP. I walked into the first event having no idea if I could pull either off. When all was said and done I was happy with the way the accent came across, and I was pleased that I was
able to overcome my own anxiety and perform. Maybe the other PCs were less than pleased with the singing part, but I was able to experience that aspect of the game. That role added new archetypes to my character repertoire. This also helped me better understand characters who take entertaining skills.

As it turned out, the most difficult thing about running that character was acting against my nature and taking things slow. The character was an easy going gentleman from the south. He was laid back and lived life at an easier pace. The character did everything
in his own time and generally took longer to do it. I tend to be goal oriented and higher strung than Remy. It was actually somewhat difficult to downplay emergencies, move at a relaxed pace, and go off on wild tangents in conversation instead of trying to get to the
heart of the matter.

4. What's the most memorable adventure or scene you've been a part of?

So many … so many. No matter what I say there will be countless scenes that I won't think of until later.

~ NERO Ravenholt: The trial of Capulus. The court of Capulus is brought to trial in front of King Richard, played at the time by the same fellow from King Richard's Faire. Although I only observed the proceedings that trial set the tone of the game for years.

~ NERO Ravenholt: The Introduction of the Chessmaster. The very first appearance of the Chessmaster. The NPC controlled an army of spirits through some ritual and to punctuate his appearance the NPCs slowly marched into town in a long line holding dim lights. That weekend we had 140 NPCs and the players didn't really know that. On Friday night seeing that line march slowly through town and gather on the field was pretty impressive, and seemed to evoke emotion from the PCs who watched the giant  procession proceed through town.

~ LIONE Rampant: The Arrival of the Dutchess (and the accusation of Myriken). When the High Priest Rexus revealed Myriken to be an ex-slave and the entire town erupted into civil war.~ NERO Wildlands: The Crowning of Deathwatch. Imagine a huge party full of angry PCs and volatile NPCs given free reign to act as their characters dictated, and not knowing what was going to happen at all.

~ NERO Ravenholt: Showdown with the Sessuar. Leave it to Jose to fight a running battle that gave me my only "John Woo moment" in any LARP.

~ NERO Ravenholt: The Bridge of Fire. One of the first modules NERO Ravenholt build with their module facades, the set up was extensive and impressive. I have yet to see another module set up with such an elaborate atmosphere.

~ Legends Roleplaying: The Meeting of Ryan Kane. When Ryan Kane, to make a point to his werewolf pack, killed and beheaded the ambassador of the Wereboar tribe and I spent the rest of the night running from packs of werewolves.

~ Legends Roleplaying: Standing Stones of the Fey. There was no ring of Stonehenge like stones when we went to bed, so waking up and seeing the giant ring of stones in the misty morning was surreal.

~ Madrigal: The Battle Dirge of the Shadowlords. It was the first Shadowlord weekend at Madrigal, when the PCs had to sing the Shadow Dirge to drive the Shadowlords back through the gate while fighting off their Shadow minions. At one point I stood across a misty field and heard the clear dirge rising above the din of the battle while the purple
glowing eyed Shadows moved to stop them.

~ Atlas Agenda: Rocketing the Giant Cockroach. When it comes to devising cool gadgets and devices, Ben Becker is a genius. An air powered rocket launcher is even more impressive when you are on the receiving end of it. His advice to me was, "Make sure you wear a cup."

~ Madrigal: The Darkest Road. The PCs battle for their life the entire length of the Darkest Road to battle and imprison the corruptor that dwells at the end.

I am sure I will come up with dozens more in the days and weeks to come. Oh and realize I missed out Shandlin's Ferry "Guard's on Pikes" scene, Atlas Agenda's Zulu fight, and NERO Ravenholt's multi-level module set up with high and low levels that snaked through the building.

5. What are Live Adventure games going to look like in ten years?

If I knew that then Live Adventures wouldn't be nearly as fun. Some trends I do see however:

~ Many people are opting to run limited scope campaigns with a definite beginning and scheduled end. It allows them to tell a complete story within this time. It is less daunting to many people with busy schedules than committing to an ongoing campaign. I suspect
we will see more of this, and these will splinter the community further making it harder and harder to run really big ongoing games.

~ In order for the Live Adventures community to expand it will have to move to a apprenticed system of some kind where new plot people can learn the art from a mentor rather than learning it through trial and error. This will mean that game owners will need excellent management skills and long term planning to introduce and train new plot people before they are critically low in that area. Otherwise we are doomed to a cycle of game implementation wherein each plot committee makes the same mistakes over and over.

~ The biggest challenge to Live Adventures in the online computer gaming community. It is an interactive and highly visual activity that requires much less preparation and provides a much more consistent entertainment experience. It is much easier for gamers to go online and participate in an interactive gaming experience than venturing out to a campsite to participate in what is inherently a wildly variable and volatile experience. Online gaming provides immediate satisfaction, while Live Adventures provide the higher potential for encounters that are much greater... and much worse. Human nature tends to settle for immediate and comfortable satisfaction. Making Live Adventures compelling and relevant in the face of this will be a challenge for all games.

6. What was the first game you ever ran, and what was it like to run it?

The first event I ever ran was a weekend event for NERO Ravenholt back when it was running at Camp Wing. The game had been featured in an article in Dragon Magazine, a national tabletop gaming magazine, so that next event had tremendous interest. It was one of the biggest NERO events ever, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 players and 140 volunteer staff, or NPCs. The reason the event was so memorable to many people was because the game at the time was largely about inter-Baronial activities. While there was rarely all out conflict between the PCs, the game catered to their rivalries. Mike Ventrella was a master at supporting and encouraging Baronial politics. The plot often took a back seat to this, with plots and modules acting as a backdrop for Baronial interaction.

The premise of the event thrust the entire game into a plot threatened them as a whole. While the details of the event weren't particularly good, the game itself had become complacent about plot because that type of plot had taken a back seat to the ongoing political game for quite a while. The shock of over one hundred NPCs acting as a coordinated invasion on the town was intense for many players. With that many NPCs there was literally danger from all sides. That combined with the hit and run combat tactics of the experienced players that were NPCing for me made for a dangerous weekend.

The weekend was the first "critter" weekend where a large, coherent enemy body foreign to the PCs threatened the entire town. The creatures were giant bugs with a unique name, but they were quickly dubbed "Brood" by the players because of the enemy from the pages of the X-men. People always assumed I stole the idea from the X-men but it actually came about another way. The brainstorm began with Lizardmen. One night while playing I was scared senseless by a group of lizardmen stalking the camp at night. The encounter was memorable because I could hear the hissing of the NPCs in the dark before I could see them. I set out to make another creature with a distinctive noise to it. At first I had a squeaking noise and was considering Were-rats or plague rats as the creatures that made the sound. Two problems came up. First, the squeaking was very easy to ridicule so I was worried any intensity would soon become irritation to the players. Second, after making the sound for a couple of minutes my throat hurt. I knew I'd never be able to have NPCs do this for hours. So I made some noises that involved less of my throat and felt more comfortable. After playing with sounds for a bit I came up with a clicking sound. "Ticka ticka ticka" could be made with your tongue against your teeth. It was also alien sounding and hard to ridicule. It sounded to me like insects. And so the Brood were born.

Most of the really good ideas for the weekend weren't even mine. The Chessmaster was an NPC suggested at a plot meeting by Lonny if I remember and I am spelling his name correctly. Mike V. took to the NPC. Randy Pierce and Brian Donahue really helped me solidify the mechanics of the main plot. Ford Ivey took a big risk allowing me to run an entire event since at the time I was basically an unknown personage.

The weekend was utter carnage. We made tons of now classic mistakes that had never been made before. We relied on a plot that used negative motivation to get the PCs involved. We didn't provide proactive ways to cleanse your self or solve elements of the plot during the ongoing weekend. The large-scale "hell grinder" fight on Saturday night that had all kinds of crowding and delays as the players moved from encounter to encounter. The event lacked additional plot to entertain players who couldn't go into the hive. I swear after that hive module we had to rewrite half the rulebook. That module also marked the demise of the talc powder packet. The white cloud in the module rose to two feet high. We could barely see the floor. We spent four hours trying to sweep it out of the building after the event.

The weekend, however, was intense and had a lot of new stuff and helped break the players and the game out of its complacency so to many people it was memorable.

7. Do you have any advice for people who are new to the scene?

Here are my top ten suggestions on how to enjoy LARPs in no particular order:

~ To become involved, concentrate on interacting with the other players rather than plot.
So many players enter a game and expect to "work" plot to get attention and go on adventures. The problem with this is that plot is purposely trying to spread their attention to all the players. So the more you try to get their attention, the harder they will work to interact with other players. Instead work on interacting with other players. You are more likely to be involved with the game as a whole, you are more likely to be invited into plots and adventures, and your game will ultimately be more satisfying because your involvement won't stall every time plot is looking the other way.

~ Join or form a group.
So many players are gun shy about joining a group or creating a group for the game. Some imagine influential solo characters that aren't tied down to any one path. Some don't want to commit to a group. Some are intimidated about approaching other people about involvement in a group. Players hope that going at it solo will allow them to do everything. It rarely works out that way. Characters who are involved in a group get to experience most plot targeting any member of that group. They can pursue their goals much more effectively with the backing of a strong group. They are much less likely to take deaths because there are people watching their back. Most importantly, they get to play with their friends.

~ Don't play a character that will prevent you from doing fun things.
If you find that you want to go on a module but "your character wouldn't do that" then either your character should have a life changing experience or you should make a new character. For a long term game you want to devise and play a character that is fun, and that means the character should like doing the things you like to do and should not like doing the things you don't like doing. It sounds obvious but I am amazed at how many people develop long term characters that prevent them from doing the fun stuff they want to do. If you enjoy fighting don't make a cowardly scholar. If you hate politics then have a reason that your character doesn't do that. I understand and applaud people who want to break the mold and develop new types of characters to play. There are plenty of times to do that when you are playing a short term character in one shot events or when you participate in the game as an NPC. Your long term PC should have compatible interests with you as a player.

~ Help other players look cool.
If they do something that's cool tell them so, in game. If they have an opportunity to look cool support them in that rather than trying to jump into their chance to shine. If you do this successfully not only is it rewarding, but people will want you to be involved in their plot and you will have more going on than you know what to do with.

~ Be forgiving of mistakes. 
Players will occasionally stumble. Plot will make mistakes. Staff will screw up in combat. Unforeseen circumstances will occasionally make things difficult for you. Understand in your head and heart that this stuff happens and laugh it off. Know what your tolerance for mistakes is and plan to make the best of these. It's fine to tell plot you don't like that type of encounter in a summary letter after the event. If you are prepared for some level of tolerance then your event will be much more fun. I am not saying you should wildly subject yourself to a poorly run game. Everyone has a different opinion of what is fun and have different levels of tolerance. Knowing what you will tolerate up front will make it easier to wave off the occasional mistake and prevent them from destroying your enjoyment of an otherwise good event.

~ Be bold. Take chances. 
Many players have an excellent instinct for staying safe. Sometimes the more memorable encounter, and the action that will be more fun, is to take the chance and go for it. If you really want to destroy that critter chase it into the woods even though it's dangerous or people say it's stupid. Speak up against the powerful NPC. Will you die more often? Yes. Will you have more fun and end up with more stories that are memorable? Almost certainly.

~ Don't skimp on preparation and involvement.
If you are going to play a game, then *play* it. Prepare for it, stay the entire event, stay on site, and bring the things that will make it fun and memorable. The more preparation for an event you do the more fun you will have. Make sure you have a good costume that is functional. Check your costume pieces before the event. Bring good, well kept weapons and bring an extra weapon in case one breaks. You shouldn't be stressed that your weapons will fail weapon check. Bring and use your cool props. Decorate your cabin with cool props. Don't be afraid
to set up a tent camp if that will be more fun for you. Make sure you have comfortable and proper bedding. Bring an air mattress if you have found the camp bunks uncomfortable. Make sure your make up and elf ears are in good shape and well stocked. Have extras. Make sure you have good food. If you like cooking, bring some way to do that. Bring extra socks and extra boots. The more prepared you are, the more you will enjoy the entire event experience. The more you put into an event, the more fun you will derive from it.

~ Make your own fun. 
Have other things to do. Bring activities and have goals that don't rely on plot. Organize a card game with decent stakes. Run a fighting tournament. Have a sing- a-long. Plan a walk through the woods to discuss some philosophical game topic with like-minded characters. Plan to take the time to introduce yourself to other players you might not know and find out something about them. And of course, be prepared to drop your plans when something big and icky comes to eat your head.

~ Be uncomfortable.
Live Adventure is gloriously uncomfortable. During a great event you might be tired and sopping wet. You might ache and get too little sleep. You might be too cold or too hot. You might have to wear bug spray because it's the time of year for insect swarms. This is part of what makes live action glorious. It makes those comfortable moments when you get home and can put on a fuzzy set of slippers all the more wonderful. Once you put it in your head that you will be cold or wet or hot then that is no longer a factor that mitigates the fun of the event.

~ Be prepared physically.
Live Adventures as we run them provide wonderfully active and physical encounters. If you come to an event lacking sleep and nutrition you won't have as much fun, especially since the event will likely add to those stressful conditions. Sleep well before the event and eat properly as you would for a sporting event. If you want to be good at fighting and running around then you will have to practice and get exercise. Stretch before the event to prevent injury. Even characters that focus on role playing will likely get in plenty of walking, standing, debate and passionate discussion and proper sleep and nutrition will help you enjoy these things.

8. Do you have any advice for LARP veterans?

You are a veteran so you think you can ignore the advice for new players. You shouldn't.

1 comment:

  1. I lost a dollar bet to Jose over this article! I recalled having read it when it was published, and I later insisted to Jose that the high attendance at Ravenholt was around 350. He claimed it was over 500. Ford settled the bet for us with the claim that the Brood weekend had somewhere around a total attendance of 725.