Have you ever wanted to go to wizard school? New World Magischola offers a LARP (live action role playing) experience that allows participants to do just that. Open to both new and experienced LARPers, New World Magischola promises a rules-light, immersive system.
The game will take place on the campus of the University of Richmond in Virginia, USA, and will feature many North American elements in the Magimundi (magical world). The LARP has raised over $314,000 via Kickstarter, and I was fortunate enough to secure a spot in the first iteration.
I asked New World Magischola Co-Leaders Maury Brown and Ben Morrow all about their much-anticipated LARP.
Maury and Ben Discuss New World Magischola Mechanics, Lore, Inclusion, and More
Tara: All the participants are so excited about this LARP! It seems like some have some very specific ideas about what they want to be and some are unsure or want to remain open-minded. What are your suggestions for those who want to start preparing now?
Maury: It’s definitely exciting to us to see how excited people are about this world we’ve created. We are thrilled that some people want to begin preparing more than six months from the event, but we also want people to know that the event is very friendly to first-time larp participants. So if you aren’t preparing right now, do not worry.
For those whose imaginations are primed, I’d suggest reading all the world-building documents we have released and begin to think about whether you’d like to play a character that is “close to home” or quite different from your everyday identity. Try to imagine some new ways to play a student: where are you from? what are your goals? What major intrigues you the most? I always like to try coming up with a song or a soundtrack for the character I imagine, as motivation. Having one particular costume piece or prop also helps to build a character around, kind of like interior design can spring from one accent piece. Or I ask myself to define one important memory or moment from the past, one important current conflict, and one future dream of any character I create. It’s important to note that we will work with you to create a character concept you are happy with, but we also must balance the houses and majors, so it’s good to have a first choice and a last choice for each. We can’t always promise the first choice, but we can promise not to give you your last choices for any category.
Tara: When you first launched your Kickstarter, you probably had an idea that your campaign would exceed its goal. How far did you think it would go? What’s it like to see your campaign reach over $300,000?
Maury: We really were unsure about how popular a game like this would be in the United States. College of Wizardry was very popular, but there is an actual castle, and they drew on a group of seasoned larpers who are used to this play style and to paying more for a larp experience. Since this kind of game has never been in North America before, we didn’t know if people wanted rules-light, role-play heavy, non-combat, non-campaign, all-inclusive larp experiences. We also weren’t sure if people would be interested in our world-building – after all, this isn’t Harry Potter.
So we set our sights low: are there 80 players in North America who are willing to buy tickets? The game could run with 80 participants and then we would have one run to demonstrate the model to others. We were quite pleasantly surprised to watch the first event sell out within two minutes of our Kickstarter launch, and we scrambled to add the second event right away. When that sold out immediately as well, we knew that North America was ready for this type of game, and we are thrilled to be able to bring the experience to more people.
Tara: What do people misunderstand most about New World Magischola? What do you want them to know?
Ben: At first, people believed that this was a Harry Potter event, and a couple people were even quite disappointed when we insisted that it wasn’t. Fortunately, we’ve managed to communicate clearly that this is a new magical world for North America. Beyond that, folks who are interested in our event but who are new to larping think that they won’t have enough experience with larping to enjoy the event.
We’re trying hard to put that potential participant at ease: the design is intended to be welcoming to new players. There are character coaches and workshops and community groups to help people build characters and get to know each other.
Tara: How is this game different from College of Wizardry? How is it similar?
Maury: The basic structure of the larp is the same: with students selected into houses, following paths or majors, and the game itself lasting four days and three nights. Our experience playing in, and helping to write and organize College of Wizardry was definitely a big influence on the game design for New World Magischola, and we are grateful to Rollespilsfabrikken and Liveform for their mentorship and partnership. The spellcasting combat system is the same, with the recipient of the spell deciding the outcome, and the game is in the “nordic style” without point-based character skills and categories, or card pulls, dice rolls, or other mechanics that intrude on the roleplay or require arbitration by a GM.
However, this is an entirely new magical universe that is based on North American history and magical traditions. Not only are the houses and traditions of the school itself different from Czocha, but the world that the school is a part of is also very different. So the conflicts and issues incorporated into our larp have to deal with things that have affected North American history and its legacy of colonialism. We’ve also changed the focus of the majors, and introduced new majors.
The world that College of Wizardry is set in after it stripped away the Harry Potter content is a loose grouping of confluxes, or city-states. In contrast, the North American Magimundi is highly organized and our world contains an economy, a system of magical jurisprudence, and other design elements that are absent from College of Wizardry. Our design also is intentionally a queer feminist design, that seeks to subvert tropes that are typically found in fantasy settings. While Czocha College was founded by three men and one woman, all of whom are white, New World Magischola was founded by two women, one man, and one non-binary gendered person, one of whom is of African descent and another of an indigenous North American tribe. That’s just one example of how the design differs on the world-building level.
In sum, they are similar projects, but each is its own entity.
Tara: Logistically, what was the most challenging part of organizing this? How many hours did it take to put things together before you launched the Kickstarter?
Maury: We spent months planning the crowdfunding campaign and building a following of fans prior to launch. We’d seriously considered Indiegogo since that was successful for College of Wizardry’s crowdfunding campaign, but our research really made Kickstarter seem to be the best choice for us.
The promotional video itself took over a month, and we called upon a lot of friends during the video’s editing for feedback. We felt that we had to invest heavily in creating the impression that the experience would be worth that price.
We had marketing plan that included an incremental release of world information in the weeks leading up to the launch, and a social media plan to build a following. We worked with crowdfunding consultants, small business consultants, lawyers, artists, colleagues, and other game designers to make this happen. We refused to launch the campaign until the legal logistics were completely worked out, so that we knew we could deliver on the product. It’s been an astronomical amount of work, but we are pleased that it seems to have paid off.
Tara: Is Learn LARP your full-time occupation? How did it come together?
Maury & Ben: Not yet! Maury is an assistant professor at Germanna Community College while pursuing her Doctorate at Old Dominion University. Ben is a risk analyst for U.S. Bank Home Mortgage.
Tara: Will themes of diversity, inclusion, acceptance/bullying, etc. be a central part of the plot for the game?
Ben: They will be, but the design of the game is “opt in” for plot. So while we can create plot that includes these themes, those themes will only be explored by players who are willing to examine them and take them up into their individual story. We hope that be seeding these themes into the world’s history, into the school’s narrative, and into the individual characters, that these themes will emerge.
Tara: There’s been a lot of controversy (at least online) in the LARP community about how acceptable it is to promote or enforce diversity in LARP settings. Having designed a setting that is inclusive to a variety of players (and characters), how do you respond to critics?
Maury: New World Magischola is an open event, and anyone can purchase tickets to it. We can’t control the actual players in a given larp. We all know that larp communities tend to be dominated mostly by white people, and in many instances, by white men.
We actively worked to create a universe that doesn’t reflect that player reality, so that people who so often do not see themselves represented in larp – or other fiction for that matter – could find themselves in our game. If potential players see that the fictional universe contains women, people of color, people of non-binary gender, and non-heteronormative sexualities, then they often feel there is freedom to play in such a universe.
Even though we can’t control who plays in the game, we do have a measure of control over who obtains positions of power within it: particularly professors and house presidents. We are actively recruiting people outside of white, male, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied identities for these positions in order to have the embodied game play come close to what we have written in the fiction. That is a measure of our commitment to these goals.
Some people have criticized the goal, and dislike words like “diverse” and “inclusive.” I’m not sure how else to say it. The universe is made up of all kinds of people, and doesn’t put them into categories or races that have specific characteristics. Both the fictional world and the player community are open places that are accepting of all identities, and doesn’t try to enforce or codify any one of them.
We are actively working with scholars in gender studies, race studies, queer studies, and game design, as well as sending our content out to focus groups for feedback to ensure that our representations and guidelines are accurate and take into account the experiences of people from a variety of cultural backgrounds and traditions. We are attempting to be extremely careful and responsible in these matters because they matter so much. That said, it is inevitable that there will be some criticism, and we will not get everything right. But we are listening, we are making changes, and we are doing our best to foster candid discussions about these very thorny issues. Even the discussions themselves are important to have.
Tara: I know I’m not the only NWM participant more accustomed to rules-heavy systems. What can I do to get more comfortable with the setting?
Maury: It is a big change for people very used to rules-heavy systems. The biggest change is a matter of trust. In a rules-based system, trust is placed in the rules and the arbitration. In this system, your trust is in your fellow players.
Ben: The first aspect is that by being very rules-light, you won’t have the burden of teaching other players how to play. A simple system means you can easily play with someone who is new, as long as they at least make the step to pretend. The second is that the system from College of Wizardry, that the person affected by the spell has full control over the spell’s outcome, is actually very liberating. It may be counter intuitive based on what you are used to what with combat being very stressful and competitive. But when you consider that no one can kill your character at NWM, you are free to take risks that you’d never willingly undertake with a combat system where a moment of weakness means that others can end your game experience by killing your character.
We find that the attitude with spells is not very defensive, but that most players allow the spell effect as intended. When you cast a spell on them, they want to see where things will go.
Tara: In the real world, we’re conditioned to accept a lot of sexist, racist, biased ideology in ways we don’t even realize. Before playing in this setting, how should we recognize and release that conditioning?
Ben: Well, as much as it would be awesome, larp doesn’t immediately erase implicit bias. We would encourage folks to try to be mindful of bias though. One of the coolest phrases that I’ve heard to help with this is “Imagine Others Complexly.” The simplest narrative of what others are doing or thinking or saying, is often one that makes the most prejudicial assumptions. By imagining a complex narrative for someone, we jump past those simplistic prejudicial assumptions, and we very likely use some of our own experiences and thoughts to construct that complex narrative.
Those are the seeds of empathy. The other helpful trick, is to intentionally try to overcome your biases. A very fascinating Stanford Study into empathy found that merely believing that people can learn to be more empathetic causes participants to score higher on the study’s tests to measure empathy. We think that can be exceptionally helpful in larp, which as you know is built upon the participant’s imagination, so I am willing to bet that imagining yourself as an empathetic character will help your gameplay and performance be more empathetic.
Tara: How should players debrief after New World Magischola? What advice do you have to new LARPers or those who have never been through a LARP debriefing before?
Ben: We do plan to have a structured debrief for players Sunday, so that is our recommended way to do it. To new larpers I would tell my own story of the first time I needed a debriefing for an event: I felt strange and weird, and did not quite know what I wanted or needed, but that something was “odd.” Only afterwards did I realize that those feelings were the ones that a debrief intended to help me with, and that I had coasted through the debrief without addressing any it.
Hopefully, new players might be able to notice when those feelings have come upon them, perhaps learn a bit from my or others first debrief experience, and can have the debrief experience they need either in our structured one, or in one they can arrange with other players.
Tara: Can you offer any exclusive tidbits about what participants can expect? Perhaps some hints about the music we’ll have access to or a creature we might encounter?
Ben: NO. Ten points from … which house are you again?
We can tell you that the magical creatures are North American ones. 😉
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— New World Magischola (@nwmagischola) December 10, 2015