Creating Play in the Magical Classroom: Part 2

Creating Play in the Magical Classroom: Part 2

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 II: Designing and Running a Good Magic Class in the Nordic, Wysiwyg, Trust-based Style

What Is a Playable Class?

While the professor is the leader of the class, the professor is not putting on a one-person show for the entertainment of the students. The professor is a facilitator who is helping to promote interactivity, participation, collaboration, risk-taking, and play.

Fundamentally, a class is a mini-sized collaborative game that teaches the students how to play it as it unfolds. Obviously, your teacher character will give the students in-character instructions about how to behave in the class, and you can also design and affect their interactions and mood through for instance the lighting of the room, selection and placement of seating, or the props and tools you provide for exercises.

Ask yourself these control questions:

  • What kinds of activities will your students be doing? (Sitting, listening are not enough)
  • What kinds of interactions are possible in your class?
  • How are the players able to express their character during the the class?
  • How many opportunities for collaborative creativity and mutual or collective storytelling have you included?
  • Is your class design playable for the number of students in the classroom?
  • Is your class design playable for the constraints of the physical space?
  • Do you need supplies and/or NPCs that you must request ahead of time?
  • How will this class affect the players, physically and emotionally?

The class should be possible to play as a good student, but also allow for alternative entertainments. If you’re the boring teacher, you can start by absolutely forbidding the passing around of notes in class, and then make sure to turn your back a lot to enable your students to pass notes. (Have a plan for what to do when you catch someone breaking your rule). If you’re a potions teacher, create an experiment that involves many sub-tasks, but also takes time, so students can gossip and flirt and sabotage each other while waiting for the stuff to boil. If you’re teaching a physical subject, buid in a few roles that are important for the class but don’t involve moving very much, to include players that aren’t very mobile (and characters that can’t be bothered).

You can design a class where you do a knowledge-dump on the students in lecture form. But it’s probably more fun to think of a topic that works well using one of the following methods instead:

  • in Socratic teaching (you asking them questions)
  • that can be structured like a quest;
  • or an exploration of objects, text or environments you’ve prepared in advance;
  • “Concept attainment,” which is a pedagogical technique that has students deduce a greater learning or idea from a presentation of non-examples and examples of the concept and has them actively comparing and contrasting and refining hypotheses;
  • or to set up exercises that are so evil they push the class to rebel against you (this is you playing to lose!);
  • or an experiment you have them perform in groups and reflect on together.

Theoretical lectures can be spiced up in many ways.

  • One good way is to have a homework text that the students are supposed to have read and then ask a few questions. This lets students clearly show if their characters have done their homework really well — or if they just don’t care.
  • You can also assign a reading and then, as the professor, disagree with it entirely, and see what kind of discussion you can create.
  • Another trick is to use the theory in practice as “there is nothing more practical than a good theory”, for example by bringing in a monster for the class to study (“Let us explore the two souls in one body dilemma by experimenting on this pregnant cyclops”).
  • Also, you can arrange for the lecture to be interrupted in someway that is interesting, dramatic, and creates play opportunities.

Any kind of practicing of using spells on each other, as well as strategies for countering, deflecting or resisting them, is great. Remember you are setting the tone for what range of play is appropriate for the magic you’re teaching! Tell the class what the spell does when it works, and some common side-effects, and perhaps some very rare extreme cases that might happen. The more ludicrous or comical the effect you describe, the more serious you should sound when describing it.[1]Also see “Examples of how to teach a spell so that the teaching makes it clear how to play” in Part VII

A good class will give the players something that enriches the game: a deeper understanding of their own character, an opportunity to develop the relationships between their characters, knowledge or gossip that is actionable in the game, or a tool or a skill to bring into the rest of the game. Class is also the only framework where student-players will feel confident about playing with magic they don’t know. You are literally teaching them [how to larp] magic.

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.

Become a patron at Patreon!


1Also see “Examples of how to teach a spell so that the teaching makes it clear how to play” in Part VII


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.