Creating Play in the Magical Classroom: Part 3

Creating Play in the Magical Classroom: Part 3

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 III: Class Objectives and Making Up Knowledge

As discussed in the previous section, a good class will provide players with something useful for the game as a whole: 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.

The fictional or actual knowledge you impart is of course also in itself fodder for the game, since it imparts knowledge about the world that the larp will not directly explore. At the end of this section are some pointers about handling the pressures of inventing the universe in an authoritative voice.

But first, some practical suggestions about what to do in class, tested by the authors in game.

Self-reflection Goals

  • Have an ethics debate, forcing student characters to verbalise their opinions about controversial magical/moral topics (they’ll be surprised about what they find out about themselves).
  • Ask your students to design a magical rune or sigil for themselves (or identify their totem, etc). It should reflect who they are and their passions and goals. Perhaps tell them that drawing it on their bodies will release a slow magic that will make them more like the thing they want to be – but to be careful, because our secrets and fears can seep into this kind of magic as well…
  • Some divination techniques can be used in this way. E.g. tea leaf reading is ideal for self-reflection, as the symbols are always somehow ambiguous and players can thus interpret them in any way that fits their character’s story.
  • Lead the group in a mindfulness-suggestion exercise. Have them first slowly pay attention to a raisin, how it looks, feels, sounds, smells, tastes (check a website, a book, or a video of this). Then have them feel the magic inside them, warm and moving, surging, just barely in control, trying to escape towards the wand hand. Have them “breath out” the magic. Explain how this teaches control. (This has no game mechanics value, but more immersive players have reported it as a moment when they really ‘felt’ the magic inside them.)

Relationship Goals

  • Teach a spell that brings secrets to the forefront, for instance one that forces one to blurt out what one is thinking about. Demonstrate with a student or a few (you can practice this in advance with one or a few students if you’re worried about them getting it). This will demonstrate a few possible ways to create play with this tool – like comedy (“uh… uh… blue… cows.” or the obvious “sex”), plot-driving (blurting out a secret) or relationship-building (“Miranda is so beautiful” or “I want to take Bob to the prom” or “The girls from [some house] just made me cry at lunch”).
  • In your first class, especially if you teach juniors, ask students to introduce themselves, and (if this is the kind of topic they’d have studied before), to say how good they were in [your topic] in their previous school. That will help people to know whether to play them up or down, and remind them of their classmates’ names.
  • You can affect the social dynamic in the classroom by having favourites, or students you hate (set this up with the player in advance), or perhaps giving people successes without them even doing anything (see the Mind Magic anecdote under “Playing a fun professor” in the next instalment of this article).
  • If you divide the class into groups, think about how. Random groups help players build relationships to characters they might not know. You can have students count off, or pull their names from a hat, or divide by the predominant color they are wearing or hair color, or any other randomizing technique.

Playable Tools Goals

  • Teach a dance they can dance at the ball.
  • Teach them a spell they can use in the game and practice it together.
  • Have them make a potion with a specific effect that they can steal some of, then or later (you can ask them to mark their bottles with a label describing the effect, and the names of everyone in their group, and to leave them in a specific place so you can grade them “later”). Please note – if any potions are to be ingested by any players at any time during the larp, all potions present at the larp should be potable and edible. You can still do impressive experiments with kitchen chemistry!
  • Ask for model/bright students before the game in the FB group. Share your lesson plan and all questions you plan to ask with everyone who wants to play a model student, to give them a real chance to experience success. For the majority of the students that will have missed the post it will feel magical. (You can plant a few gold star moments for students in your class in advance even if you don’t otherwise work from a detailed plan).
  • Set a task that will create play as it is solved outside of class. Here is an example from a Mind Magic class: “On Friday I gave them homework and told them to return their essays before the Saturday classes. I gave them two options: you can either write an essay OR you can use any means of mind magic to produce one. About 20 people wrote an essay. The rest used Mind Magic to make their friend write it for them, to hex me into believing they had already turned in the essay (which was of course the BEST essay I had ever read) and so on. (I told them I’d call off my mind protection spells for 24 hours so they would have a chance to actually hex me.) Some used telepathy to deliver the essay directly into my mind and one even brewed her essay into a potion. Very fun!
  • Palm reading was used by students outside classes to “find out” what will happen (i.e. reveal information known to one student, but not the others).
  • Use the lectures to seed relationship information to the students. What are the other teachers like, really? What kind of a dark history do you, their favourite teacher, have? Hints tend to work better than more overt explanations. It makes the students feel like they have stumbled on a secret. You can of course also have them work on solving a “hypothetical scenario” that is a real problem experienced by some students at the college or even in your class. This offers great opportunities for resentment, disappointment in you, passive-aggressive sniping among students, as well as allowing the real parties or their sympathisers to argue their case.

Making Stuff up During Class

You will be forced to improvise, because students will ask you questions you never even thought of. Don’t panic! Here are some choices you can make in that situation:

  • Make something up. If you’re not sure whether the stuff you’re spouting syncs with the canon, frame it as myth, folklore, a controversial opinion that your character has, and make bitter allusions to Some Other Teachers or Magical Authorities who, as the students well know, may not agree with your obviously correct ideas on this topic. (Or similar, as appropriate for your character.) This makes magic more like actual academia, and contributes to building the world. Make a note after class about what you now so firmly believe, so you can use it later in the game.
  • Ask the other students what the correct answer is. This gives the characters a chance to shine, but in addition players also get an opportunity to contribute. The answers can be considered “right” by your teacher character or maybe disputed, thus generating interesting discussions out of nowhere. In a situation like this, when a student player exposes themselves, you should never downplay them – except if you agreed to do exactly that with the player involved in advance. If no one has anything, ask them to look in their textbooks, or ask leading questions, or describe a hypothetical scenario (or a personal anecdote from your character’s exciting life) and ask them to make deductions from the facts you’ve just presented. When they come up with something good, reward them with praise and/or house points. (Make a note afterwards of the thing you have just claimed to be true. You can also bring it up with some of the other faculty in a social situation – “my students were discussing this principle in class…” – because it might be valuable input for their classes, whether their characters agree or disagree)
  • Divert or delay. If they ask something during class, tell them it’s a good question and that we shall discuss that topic later this semester – or if it’s not related to class, tell them to come talk to you after class. If they come to you outside class, you can always be busy and tell them to come back to you later or ask another Professor (who might be more knowledgeable on the subject than your character!). If they are asking about something suspicious, you can always question their reasons (“why are you asking about love potions anyway?”)

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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.