Camp Hack – Camp Howe, Goshen Mass
(how one site almost killed a handful of games and saved many, many more)
Camp Howe, located in foothills of the Berkshires (or close enough to them as to make no odds) is a picturesque, if someone removed, American Camp Association accredited site that hosts a wide variety of games in Western New England. For years known as “the Goshen Death Site” for its propensity to almost kill games such as NERO and MJ (before they both barely escaped) with poor NPC attendance due to the longer-than-average drive and, shall we call them, somewhat rustic cabins. In recent years Camp Howe has seemingly reinvented itself as a hot-bed of established, long running games – notably Tales of Valor and Terres Rising. With the burgeoning community, Howe provides a low-cost alternative to the more centrally located sites and allows for a steady influx of participants from the Western reaches of Mass, Southern Vermont, Albany, New York and the college town of North Hampton. While infrastructure remains interesting, at times, a recently rebuilt central module space/monster camp and a healthy summer camp program means that Camp Howe will continue to host events for many years to come.
The Player Cabins at Howe can be somewhat tricky. Constructed for the few warm summer months Goshen sees, each building has a foot-wide ventilated space around the perimeter of the cabin roof, thus turning the whole structure into a make-shift wooden air conditioner. While appreciated during the summer, it means that some of the coldest events ever seen have been suffered through in these buildings. The screens are in-tact and well maintained, covering windows on each wall. Heavy wooden side-swing shutters allow for all cabins to be plunged into near darkness. The beds are standard metal-framed or wooden bunk style, with relatively new mattresses. Most cabins have ramp access.
A single light bulb or two illuminates the interior, with an additional outlets scattered about the walls. The breakers seem average to good; they will support hot water pots, a griddle, and, perhaps, an electric blanket or two. Breaker panels are per cabin and found just below the rafters; easily accessible if tripped. All cabins have at least two doors. There are numerous rafters within reach that allow for the hanging of tarps or tapestries.
There is a larger, staff type building that sits behind the Monster Camp and Tavern building. I suspect most of the plot staff for games stay here. It is a far more modern building, with multiple private rooms and two very odd, very large showers – the only place with hot showers on the camp. Some games may make these showers available to players.
There is also another smaller staff cabin on the drive in – it, too, has multiple small private rooms and is more modernized.
While not quite the abject, pitiless squalor seen at Camp Middlesex, the player bathrooms are rough. One services each side of the camp. Unisex, with two large accessible stalls and three smaller ones that are almost two feet wide they are serviced by 2 sinks in a rather small building. Essentially, you’re not ever not within a foot of someone pooping. There seems to be no hot water. There are no mirrors, and no hand soap. Players who enjoy heavy make-up races are on notice.
There are dedicated shower buildings as well. I’ve never seen anyone use them. I don’t think they have hot water either. The odd thing is that this Camp gets rave reviews from all the summer campers. Perhaps the amenities are turned off once summer camp ends?
The newest building on site, Monster Camp is a sprawling affair with a large central room and another space accessible by a regular and roll-up garage door. Tale goes that, when the last building was set to be raised, the local fire department got to have a go at it before it was demolished and rebuilt. The only caveat here is that Monster Camp is literally in the center of town. While it has broad organizational space, sleeping is in the outlying smaller cabins as noted above. If a game chose to run Monster Camp in, say, an entire cabin set instead of in this building it could effectively be repurposed into an in-town module building capable of running about 30 players at a throw.
This is a tough one and, I suppose, depends entirely on how the game chooses to arrange the environment. As noted above, the newest building in the center of the camp could be purposed as module space or as monster camp. Next to it there is, by dint of it having an industrial kitchen, another large building that generally serves as the tavern. Set with 7 20 foot long tables and benches and centrally located it seems to make a natural gathering point and can host 50 players with ease, although combat can be tight. There is a front and back entrance, and two private bathrooms. The space will need to be broken up with long tarps to separate out the kitchen area – however, there are plenty of reachable rafters to clip tarps or tapestries to.
Aside from the two large buildings there are several elongated smaller ones which pass muster as either role-play spaces or catacomb-type structures. The bunk beds within are moveable, and covering them provides for a pretty decent, reconfigurable, obstacle-style set-up, including blocking off smaller rooms and even creating corridors. More than 10 participants in these buildings (both PCs and NPCs) is generally untenable, but they are perfect for small encounters or themed role-playing sessions. As noted above, the rafters are numerous and accessible. Several of the buildings have the older, ½ sized emergency hatches that camps hastily installed when buildings needed an additional exit to come up to code – they make for fantastic entrances to dungeon crawl encounters.
Finally, way down by the entrance to the site, there is an old horse barn and paddock occasionally populated by an aggressive owl. A shorter version of the stables found at Ye Olde Commons, this building allows for pretty decent “walk through” style modules and has a plenty of outdoor space, a road and an adjacent field for sprawling, siege-style encounters.
Outdoor Encounter Areas
This is where Camp Howe shines. The woods are present, dense, and haunting. A low ropes course connected by numerous trails provides several clearings with platforms – the usual shin-shattering, low to the ground guywires are, thankfully, not part of this set-up.
To the other side of the camp, an outdoor amphitheater with benches and a large drop-off/rock pulpit overview just begs for cult gatherings or large, expository offerings. However, there is one downside.
On the way to the amphitheater, toward the lake side of town, the land drops off and there is an incline almost on par with the hill at Camp Middlesex that leads down to the waterfront. This is a steep, rutted and pitched escarpment. At the end of it there is a useable waterfront, with the usual floating docks dragged up on to the shore for the off season. 30 people could do battle here – more than that would be hilariously crowded. An off-limits building for boat storage is also present.
The paths are numerous, well maintained, looping and almost confusing. A central road runs through the camp, from the entrance, past the stables, by the Monster Camp and Tavern, through a cabin set, out to player parking, and then finally terminating into a far road off the site. From this main thoroughfare numerous trails and fields (see below) offer easy access to the woods. There are rock walls, gorgeously dilapidated small bridges, tiny steams, and at least a mile of trails.
The area between the lakeside and the player cabins also seems to have trails, or at least small cleared paths, that make the woods accessible without being oppressive. There are, however, numerous drop-offs which need to be considered when running nighttime encounters lakeside.
Another selling point for Howe are the fields. One long, continuous one stretches to encompass both main buildings and abuts the player cabin-set. Sadly, this space is broken up by a monstrous climbing wall that is supported by several guywires which have put facial scars onto a good half dozen players over the years – perhaps the only time I’d actually encourage games to mark a hazard with glow sticks and neon flagging – those cables are nasty and they are right in the center of town.
There are two, vaguely side by side subsidiary fields across from the Tavern/Monster Camp, capable of hosting decent sized field fights (50 participants). They are separated by navigable woods and a small escarpment.
The field outside the stable, bordered by some fencing, offers another decent field area – a trail loops back from the far end of the field offering easy access for NPCs if the players are led down the road and past the stable to encounters.
As noted, there is a full service, industrial kitchen in the Tavern building. The camp does not offer staff-serviced meals. Numerous fire pits are present in the housing areas and next to the Tavern in case anyone wishes to prepare a wood-fired repast.
Parking can be allocated in two ways. The road to the camp can be used as parking along one side, with enough shoulder to allow for emergency vehicles to pass. There are a few small parking spots, which I would suppose are generally reserved for staff members, near the upper cabins. Most people park in a small field past the further cabin set and it. Is. Tight. Parking on the side of the road beyond that small field is encouraged, although if there is a total party wipe players may flee down that road, encouraging combat amongst the cars – new paint jobs be wary. It is also easy to get parked in if you utilize the small lot. However, the ground is solid, so there are no mud issues, despite it being non-graveled.
On the way to the site, seasonally, there are a few food trucks, a 2 star Chinese restaurant, a Cumberland Farms/Gas Station and the omnipresent Drunkin’ Donuts. Pretty much everyone goes to Brewmasters Pub either Friday Night or after game on Sunday. They have local brews and, well, ok service. Make sure your order is…clear, they tend to be busy and occasionally forgetful.
The college town of Northampton is close by and, as a college town, they have a ton of affordable eateries catering to…pretty much every taste. Although, nice to see, no Wal-Mart.
As a final volley, there is a fantastic eatery called Bread Again, on the main road to the campsite. A Punk collective of pizza and bread aficionados, and, I’m guessing, hostel and Airbnb fans, Bread Again is a fantastic stop on Friday Night.
So. There’s a Bear. There is a set of poorly secured dumpsters to encourage said Bear and, to guard against that, games that run here should take care to never send out bear-costumed NPCs. An air horn is usually present in the Tavern to warn of said hungry behemoth. Care should be taken on the far trails, at evening, to make sure one does not run afoul of a half-ton of fur that is absolutely not going to take your hits.
In addition, Camp Howe is a bit tricky to get to. There is actually another “Camp Howe” located to the East of Route 9 on Tilton Farm Road – I think it’s their corporate office. The standard GPS can betray you, so the easiest way to get to the camp is to drive Route 9 off of 91 until you see East Street, on a slight incline, on your right – it is marked but easy to miss. Once you’re on East Street you drive about 3 more minutes than you think you should and there is a tiny, tiny sign pointing to Camp Howe in the parking lot of an odd, small, public works building. You drive through the parking lot of that building, past decrepit plows, and down a narrow road shrouded by intimidating trees and, suddenly, you see the signs proclaiming future leaders are present. Welcome, Future Leaders.
(This is the correct Camp Howe)
(This is the one full of lies and betrayals)
Finally, this site is markedly close to the college town of Northampton, Ma. With the collage population it has proven to be a fertile ground for recruitment, second only to MJ’s ventures at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire and whatever clever devilry Mike OJ is pulling off at Southern New Hampshire University.
Camp Howe is extremely affordable; part of its charm. The caretakers seem welcoming, although I have never actually seen them be present.
See Quirks, above.