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 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6 – Part 7
Part VII: Example/Examples of How to Teach a Spell so That the Teaching Makes It Clear How to Play
This final part of the series gives practical examples on how to apply the techniques and ideas explained in the previous parts.
The Opt in/Opt out Truth Serum
The class brews a babbling beverage that is then tested on a volunteer student.
The class is told that the potion will force the object to speak out loud anything on her mind for a specific period of time (not too long, 90 seconds for instance), and therefore can be used as a truth serum by asking or tricking the subject to think about specific things (or have an antidote at hand to counter the effect, this is also usable to create an artificial stop to the exercise).
The class is also told that the point of this exercise is to practice methods of resisting the potion: you can’t stop talking, but you can cover your mouth with your hand (this is good to demonstrate to the class – keep talking but muffle the sound with your hand, so they know what to do), or you can eat something at the same time to make your speech unclear, or try to focus your mind on for instance a strong childhood memory to only tell things that “aren’t secret”.
All of these instructions are given at least once before students are asked to volunteer, so that the player knows what she is asked to do in front of the class – some will find this specific exercise very easy, others will find it hard to think of things to say and will then opt out by not volunteering.
Others from the group will be given tasks – to barrage the subject with questions (everyone can do this if the group is not enormous, in which case it can get so loud you’ll need a whistle to silence them), to hand the subject food, to clock the effect on an old-fashioned stopwatch and count down the last ten seconds, etc.
The test subject player will understand from the teaching (and can be reminded during the experiment by repeating the above) that they can now choose to do different things under the influence of the potion: speak the character’s inner monologue, blurt out secrets to further play, share something very personal about the character that they get to be embarrassed about later – or if they can’t think of anything to say (because it can actually be quite hard to speak non stop for 90 seconds) either clamp their hand in front of their mouth while continuing mumbling, or stuff themselves with cookies while talking and spray everyone with crumbs. Most will do a mixture of the above.
If the player panics or freaks out or goes completely silent or is struggling to find things to say, you as a teacher will immediately blame the potion, which was clearly not correctly brewed – “Aha! Group one, your potion is not working! As you see here, Ms McNally is sometimes silent for several seconds”, or if the player looks tormented and falters “Group two, Ms McNally manages with an impressive mental effort to resist the urge to speak – the potion works, but it’s not strong enough!”
The purpose of this is to make sure that the PLAYER can never fail. If you manage to babble for 90 seconds, that’s great play and very entertaining or moving or horrible (depending on what comes out) – but they don’t, that is still great storytelling because it manufactures a fíctional truth about the quality of the potion. And you can reward the player for volunteering by telling them, honestly, that they did great.
The groups whose potion works (or might work, if you don’t have time to test them all) can keep them for use in the game. You can urge them as homework to perform the same experiment on each other to practice resisting the potion. Another option is to tell the students that it is absolutely forbidden to take the potion from the classroom and then turn your back to them and give the student an opportunity to steal them.
The characters now know how to use the potion to get secrets. The players now know how to use the potion to give secrets, and how to brief other players about the potion while playing, so they too can access this experience of functional magic without breaking for briefing. (If the other player doesn’t understand the in-game instruction and do something else, don’t break the game to correct them – clearly the potion was unstable, or dysfunctional, or reacting badly with some other magic the target was using. Your character can wonder at this out loud).
Torture Curses in Class
This is an excerpt from Mike Pohjola’s article about playing a Dark Arts teacher at College of Wizardry.
For the larp I had prepared two lectures, and Bane gave both of them three times. The first one started with a test on their natural learning ability and on theory of the Unforgivable Curses. The second one was all about practicing the Torture Curse on other students.
He found these great one-use Solberg wands where some anonymous person had already imbued with the unforgivable Imperius Curse. (The Imperius forces the victim to do whatever the caster says.) As you know, in a case like this, the legal responsibility for the Torture Curse is on whoever placed the Imperius Curse on the wands, but unfortunately we will never know who that wonderful person is. So as you can see, it’s all perfectly legal and moral and educational.
The students were divided into pairs (“Partner up with someone you will have no trouble hating.” This suited Bane’s character perfectly, and also provided interesting play for the student players.), and each pair was given one of these wands.
The victim would cast the Imperius Curse on the torturer saying: “Cast the Torture Curse on me for one second.” Then the torturer would torture the victim with their own wand. After this, the victim would tell the torturer what they felt. Then they would switch. (The wand had one use per caster.) At the end of the class we would discuss our experiences, and figure out ways to use what we have learned for defense.
In one of these classes Bane had one pregnant student, Norah Asar (Pernilla Rosenberg). She was partnered up with Sebastian Dolohov (Markus Montola).
Bane did have a soft spot of sorts for protecting babies, and another one for Norah Asar. So he didn’t want the baby hurt.
Dolohov: “Professor! Can the baby be accidentally hurt when you cast the Torture Curse on the mother?”
“NOT UNLESS YOU REALLY WANT TO TORTURE THE BABY. BUT THEN YOU WOULD HAVE TO TARGET YOUR HATRED AT THE BABY, WHICH CAN BE DIFFICULT.”
At this Bane remembered how his own pregnant wife had been taken to Azkaban to be tortured by Dementors. ”BUT REMEMBER CLASS, YOU SHOULD NEVER USE THE TORTURE CURSE ON A BABY, ESPECIALLY AN UNBORN ONE.”
“IN FACT, YOU SHOULDN’T USE THE TORTURE CURSE ON ANY BABY.”
“TO CORRECT MYSELF, YOU SHOULD NEVER USE THE TORTURE CURSE AT ALL, SINCE IT IS COMPLETELY ILLEGAL.”
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