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
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
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
~ 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
~ 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
~ 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
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
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
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
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
plots and adventures, and your game will ultimately be more satisfying
because your involvement won't stall every time plot is looking the other
~ 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
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
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
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
~ 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
~ 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
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.