I recently returned to New World Magischola, an institution for higher education in the magical arts in North America, for the beginning of a new semester.
New World Magischola is similar to College of Wizardry, a Harry Potter-inspired LARP that runs in a real castle in Poland. This event was NMW 7, First Semester; I have previously played NWM 3, First Semester and NWM: Yuletide Escapade, Week 1 (2016.)
You can read my previous post about playing NWM3 here, where I talk about what makes this LARP series unusual for my experiences in LARP, some of which changed a bit for me from week 3 to week 7. Some of the atypical elements included:
- high budget, high production values — lots of quality set dressing and props, some costuming provided to players (robes and school ties)
- extensive workshopping before and after the LARP
- player input into pre-written characters — some players play their characters as written, others changed a little, some changed them a lot
- consent based magic mechanics — when players cast spells on one another, the recipient decides the outcome, which can be as the caster intended, no effect (the spell fizzles), or the magic goes wrong and something else occurs
- encouragement to momentarily drop out-of-character, both through mechanics and culture, mostly for players to check in on one another and to negotiate roleplay
- player requested content — players can request scenes (including outcomes, if they like) which the staff will support with NPCs
Since M Duggan (my character for NWM7 and Yule) was already cast for this event, I was given a new character. I actually went through a number of possibilities (I feel a bit bad for the poor staff member handling casting) because I had a few preferences:
- Non-first year. I really loved being sorted in NWM7 (it was a major highlight of the weekend for me) but this time, I really wanted to try the experience of starting and staying with a single house.
- Non-Cryptozoologist. I had loved playing a cryptozoologist (being an animal and nature lover in real life), but I was hoping to try classes in new subjects.
- Same year and house as a friend, to allow for more roleplaying time together. (While I have enormous sentimental attachment to Maison Du Bois and would very happily play it again, I was also curious about the other houses.)
- Originating from Thunderbird (the Pacific Northwest), which fit the most with the hipster costuming I had developed for previous events, and was the most likely to have wizards who mess with mundane technology (I wanted to take photos.)
- Pureblood descent. It seems like there are more family politics to explore for pureblood students than for mixed blood or mundane born.
- A member of the Explorers of the Eternal. Explorers of the Eternal was another highlight of NWM3 for me.
The character I ended up with, A. Young, is a pureblood third year cursebreaker in Maison Du Bois, from the Thunderbird region, with family history relating to Virginia Isle. My character as written wanted to avoid dealing with her family, which I changed because it seemed like a shame to have a character who wanted to reduce opportunities for roleplay with other PCs.
I also decided that I was still interested in developing the character I’d already been working on, so I interpreted my new character as an alternate universe/alternate timeline version of my previous one. I named her Mickey again, and kept some of the details I’d developed in the past, such as details about her wand, interest in Thunderbirds, and her nagual ability to turn into a rabbit, then added a few more details (like a semester abroad in Australia, based on my own experiences) just for fun and flavor.
My experience in NWM7 was broadly different from NWM3. This was primarily, I think, because I started with a house, instead of getting sorted into one halfway through. In NWM3, I spent much of the first half of the event, including opening workshops and meals, with one group of players (the first years), then the second half with another group (my housemates in Maison Du Bois.)
While being sorted was an amazing experience and given the chance to go back, I wouldn’t do NW3 differently, I do think it presented a challenge in terms of connecting with fellow players. Getting to spend a lot of time, from the opening workshops to the closing workshops and throughout the game between, with my fellow Du Bois meant it was much easier to learn names and get to know them in and out of character. I also really enjoyed welcoming the new bear cubs as they got sorted (we chanted, “you have wandered!” “Now you are home!” and gave them bags of gummy bears) and, under the guidance of our house presidents, setting up the Du Bois common room and planning and executing the initiation ritual. I think as a house, Maison Du Bois really bonded. (We won the House Cup, by the way!)
As it was in my previous two events, I think the best element of the LARP for me was just the immersive, realistic environment. NWM7 really did feel like returning to college. The setting feels full and complete, with extensive information on the history and culture of the school and the Magimundi (the mage’s world), the set dressing is extensive, and the robes and school ties give weight to the visual aspect of the experience (though many students often decide to forgo their robes due to the heat and humidity.) I particularly liked the set dressing in the various common rooms; the house presidents went above and beyond to reflect their house colors, mascots, and mottos with fun decor.
My favorite thing to do at Magischola is attend classes, take notes, and even do homework. I really enjoyed participating in class activities. In Magical Wellness, we did meditative breathing exercises, manipulated a fire elemental, and used our personal auras to create defensive spells. In Artificiery, we made amulets out of stones in the first class, and in the second, I watched a student make a magical prosthetic arm for another student (out of real chicken bones!) In our first Healing class, we discussed the procedure for healing in the field, and identified and discussed bi-runes. In the second class, deliberately drank (non-lethal) poisons, discussed ethical questions while they kicked in, then practiced identifying the poisons and creating antidotes, which was a ton of fun. In Ethics and Theory, we practiced illegal curses on one another (compulsion and pain spells) and discussed the topic of how non-humans are treated in the Magimundi society with a guest vampire and dark fae.
My other class was Curse Breaking and Runic Magic. Along with Healing, it was one of the more structured courses with a lot of pre-prepared lecture materials, which I really enjoyed. We learned about the different classifications of curses (hexes, jinxes, scourges, and blights), and how to identify, analyze, and neutralize them. We also learned about the different forms of runes (pictograms, ideograms, logograms, morphograms, and phonograms.) In our second class, we analyzed runes and tried to draw conclusions about the artist who drew them.
This class particularly appealed to me not just because of its more structured style, but because I felt like I was really learning something — the classification of curses seemed very plausible, and we actually were learning real information about graphemics, which dovetailed with my passion for linguistics. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was a small moment during the runes analysis, when I received double points for my answer. It might sound like such a silly and small thing, but having my character do well at a topic dear to my heart really made me smile.
For clubs, I got involved with the Crossed Wands, which involves competitive spell dueling. We practiced outside, throwing spells at one another and trying out balancing exercises. At one point, a real owl perched in a nearby tree to watch us. We mused over the possibility that it was a spy from our rival school, Imperial, trying to gain an edge for an upcoming match. The owls’ presence really added a magical spark to the evening. (Other wildlife also lent their flair to the weekend; a deer wandered by during one encounter with fae in the woods, a number of turtles were spotted swimming in the lake, and butterflies were fluttering all over campus.)
A few of us tried to get photos of our feathery audience; believe me when I say they don’t quite capture its majesty, size, or proximity to the duels.
We staged two duels with students from Imperial (played wonderfully by NPCs), losing the first one in order to set up a comeback match during the school dance that closed out the event. I thought the comeback match went pretty well — students could keep dancing in the main room if they felt like it, or wander out to watch from the balconies overlooking the match.
The one downside to Crossed Wands was that the first match made me a few minutes late for the Explorers of the Eternal meeting. It was fun working on the puzzle that revealed the time and location, though I think it came out a bit too late for some students to finish in time. When I got to the room, the meeting was in progress, and they wouldn’t allow latecomers (though the meeting at NWM3 did.)
For NWM7, I decided to engage in the pranking culture that thrives at the school. (For example, students love to submit silly messages for announcements, which our wonderful chancellor is obliged to read aloud.) Over the week or so leading up to the event, I bought 10 yards of muslin, cut into five pieces of two yards each, and two packs of fabric markers. I drew up mock versions of each of the house banners, with the mascots replaced with cartoon characters. (I think they were all recognizable, except possibly Wally Gator, an old Hanna-Barbera character, not terribly well known.)
Late on Thursday night, when most people had gone to bed, I and a fellow Du Bois went sneaking from common room to common room, hanging the mock banners over the real banners, along with a little note saying the banners had been hexed to be unmovable.
Over Friday and Saturday, I kept an ear out for buzz about the banners. There were some amusingly indignant announcements from students accusing Maison Du Bois (as the only house with an unpranked banner), though all but two Du Bois were in the dark and denied involvement. I found overhearing snippets of conversations from people debating about who might have done it rather gratifying. I hear there was a meeting of the house presidents, where it was decided that Maison Du Bois students would make the rounds and help break the hexes keeping the mock banners stuck in place. (Lakay Leveau declined to have theirs removed, because they liked theirs so much.) I think the other houses moved theirs to let the original banners show, but kept the mock ones on display elsewhere in their common rooms.
After the LARP, I admitted to being the culprit, and got a lot of compliments, which was really nice. People thought the prank was very cute. I was really happy that it gave people something to talk about and roleplay over. The students of Maison Du Bois decided they wanted one, too, so on Saturday night I brought the last piece of muslin and the markers down to our common room and we drew up a banner featuring a Care Bear. Yogi Bear (“smarter than the average bear!”) and Winnie the Pooh (“oh bother!”) were close seconds for choices.
NWM7 was a magical weekend. Maison Du Bois has been doing a remarkable job of keeping and touch, which I think reflects how well we really bonded as a house. The next Yule events are sold out, but I’m hoping to see them (and lots of my other fellow players) at future events!