Creating Play in the Magical Classroom: Part 1

Creating Play in the Magical Classroom: Part 1

Creating Play in the Magical Classroom is a multi-part guide to playing a teacher at the College of Wizardry and New World Magischola larps. While it was written specifically with these events in mind, it can be applied to many other larps and settings.

The texts in this series are written collectively by (in alphabetical order) Maury Brown, Stefan Deutsch, Johanna Koljonen, Eevi Korhonen, Ben Morrow, Juhana Pettersson, Maria Pettersson, Mike Pohjola, Staffan Rosenberg and Jaakko Stenros. The series is edited by Johanna Koljonen.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7

Part I: Playing a Professor

Playing a professor is great fun. You have the perfect excuse to play an over-the-top character and the classroom setting offers an entertaining combination of performance, run-time game mastering, and attentive, game-creating play.

As a professor character in a hierarchical setting like a school, your character will likely have a fair amount of authority. This means you as a player will have four jobs. They are rewarding, but also time-consuming, so you should ideally plan your character’s personality, relationships, and interests in a way that makes them playable in short snatches whenever your attention is not consumed by your duties — or grabbed by events hurling themselves at you.

These are the four tasks:

  1. Creating and running what are essentially nano-larps – your classes – in the context of the overall game. These need to be designed to be playable in at least two different ways (for students/players who are interested in your topic and teaching style, and for students/players who are not interested). Students can skip classes, but if all student players start skipping all classes because class is boring to play, that might actually break the game. Ideally, the classes will give your players something to bring into the rest of the game as well as an opportunity to either explore their characters deeper, further their social plots, or both. (This will be covered in more depth later in this series).
  2. In hierarchical organisations in larps, plot tends to run upward. Student-players will come to you with their characters’ problems, either because that would be a reasonable thing to do (“Professor! My classmates have started a necromantic cult that threatens the very survival of the school!”), or because they don’t know how to get further with some kind of plot they’ve found, invented, misunderstood, etc. (“Professor! There’s a living tree in the forbidden forest who has half the soul of a former student that needs liberating so he can die!”). Your job is to listen, get the gist by asking questions, and rapidly enable the student-player to go on solving these problems themselves, ideally with the aid of other students. You can get personally involved with plot and events that involves school administration, the house cup, and perhaps one random thing during the larp that is totally irresistible to you as a player – but between classes, school administration, house monitoring duties, faculty meetings, grading if you give homework, and responding to the emergencies of the next 30 students, you won’t have time to go on adventures. In fact, if you do, you might actually hamper the play of student characters who need to speak to a teacher for legitimate, teacherly reasons (see point 3 below). Playing a professor is a practice in running away from plot. If you want to go on quests, request to play a student instead.PLEASE NOTE: Quite often it would be more realistic for your character to get involved in the crises of the students, but you can’t and you will need to give your character a good reason not to. We will return to this in a later instalment.
  3. Runtime game-mastering, through the in-game actions of your characters, everything that has to do with or affects the school as a whole – teaching, points for houses, meetings where all characters gather, administration of prefects/presidents and house selection, new situations that might require a change in school rules or a faculty response, etc. If the school has rules, you may also be involved in maintaining those rules, so that breaking them becomes playable (but please remember that punishments like detention have to be just as fun and interesting to play as classes – while the character should feel bummed out, the player should feel like they won the lottery by getting caught).These responsibilities are super important, because you have eyes on the ground in a way the actual game-masters never can. On the other hand, it doesn’t feel like work, because this stuff is what your characters would logically be doing anyway. It’s just important to stick to the limits agreed upon with the organisers, which will probably be the following: The overall schedule of the larp must be adhered to under all circumstances – small in-game delays for major in-game reasons are acceptable, but you can’t cancel events like the ball (unless you make sure to dramatically un-cancel it) and teaching will continue no matter what. If you’re cursed and can’t move, have the students carry you to class, or come to you. In brief, in-game problems will typically be solved in-game, but the schedule is holy, which might require you occasionally to heavily steer your character’s actions towards this goal.
  4. Portraying a diverse, interesting, and functioning school faculty. Larping is a team effort, and your portrayal of a professor happens in the context of a school with students, staff, and faculty. One part of this is to ensure that the teachers are different. There should be good, evil, and neutral teachers, lax, strict and lazy ones, teachers who are absent-minded, paranoid, over-protective, ethical, irrational etc. For a dynamic game, it’s good to check with the other teachers that you don’t all have same teaching style or pedagogical methods. One very boring, theoretical class is great – so that people will have a boring teacher to hate on (except for that tiny minority who find that teacher the best). Some should be very practical, others more conversational, some physical, etc.Another important thing is to portray a unified facade. Even if two professors hate each other, they should publicly treat each other with respect — fundamentally, the enemy of the faculty are the students. If too many teachers lose respect in the eyes of the students, the game will no longer function. In the interest of maintaining the cohesion of the larp, the faculty should always play each other up when it comes to status.

This work is distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. That means you are allowed to use elements of this text beyond the extent of referring and linking to it as long as you credit the original authors and source. It’s not allowed to use parts of this work for commercial purposes, if you are unsure if this applies to your project, please contact us.

This is not intended as a cut and paste smorgasbord but rather a complete text. Please reference it, but avoid using parts out of context. It’s better to just link the articles where it’s appropriate for use.

Images and logos from New World Magischola in this article are © 2015-16 Learn Larp, LLC. New World Magischola and Magimundi are trademarks of Learn Larp, LLC. Used with permission.

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Johanna Koljonen (b. 1978) is a Finnish larp theorist, experience designer, and author. She lectures internationally on participation safety and on the development of the media industries.