CoW thoughts…

College of Wizardry is a lrp set in a college of magic based in a castle. It’s got professors, and lessons, a magical team game, house points and a house cup.

It has nothing to do with any Well-known Work of Wizarding Fiction.

I went to the twelfth run of the game last weekend. I’ll do a story-post some time, but until then I have some thoughts…

College of Wizardry 12: post-makeover Leif and Lily, his date, who was a ghost.
Credit: Cryssie Jade and Nadina Dobrowolska

1. It’s bloody good.

It makes some truly brilliant stories. I’ll be frothing about this for years.

2. It’s a blockbuster.

They’ve done something _very_ clever. They’ve set a lrp about college, in a magical college. That sounds a bit like stating the bleedin’ obvious, but I think it’s quite important. This is a larp about being at college first, about being at a magical college second, and about being a magician last. There are _probably_ great world-shattering plots about, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t run into any. Someone called Harry might have saved the world, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet them. The stories that people are telling are _mainly_ about things that happen at college: change and relationships. Pretty small stuff you might say, but also the subject of every teen movie ever and MASSIVE DRAMA when they involve you. It’s every teen movie ever in the same place at the same time, colliding and feeding off each other and that means there’s protagonists enough for everyone to be one.

It’s so much easier to play in a world where your shared understanding of the setting is so deep. You know who these people are. You know how to react to them. You know how to play with them. The geeks, the nerds, the jocks, the brains, the cool kids…

I imagine for some people this sounds like hell. Don’t go. Some of it is my hell. I should have done better at avoiding those bits, but hey…

3. Pre-prep is big and clever.

I was massively cynical about pre-play, and I think I still am, in the main. But if you are going to be playing characters who have been at college together for two years: well, either you get a brief the size of the Prisoner of Azkaban, or you prep. up some highlights yourselves. Once I started to think about it – and this was the weekend before the game, and too late by far – I realised I’d been doing this for years, but only ever in my own group. Who were we, how did we fit together, who did what… Pre-prep for a game like CoW is exactly that, but spread beyond the group.

Lrp for me is pretty much defined by regrets – the moments you miss by not being in the right place, or not saying the best thing at the best time, or whatever. And I have always thought those regrets were mandatory – you had to have them because they are the price you pay for the freedom to get the best moments of lrp, the bits of serendipity that I love the most about this medium. So, CoW pointed out that you can actually use pre-play to reduce that cost a bit… And damn me, I wish I’d spent a bit more on pre-play, or meta-techniques during the game because much as I enjoyed CoW – with a bit more trust maybe, or a bit more prep. it could have been even better. Essentially, I’d gone in pretty self-contained and then within the Icelander group – and I could have extended that prep out a bit more… If I’d thought about it, maybe my arc could have been more integrated into other folks’ stories in a way that would have been cool.

If you believe that lrp is “all about what happens at the event” – you’d hate a lot of this, you’d hate pre-play (as opposed to pre-plan.) and you’d _really_ hate the pre-game IC social network. You can get round all of that, but even so – I *strongly* suggest extending your prep out a bit, wherever you’re playing.

4. “Playing to lose”, and “Yes, and…” are big and clever.

There are some formidable improv skills on display, and most players are extraordinarily free with spotlight time – I think in part because there’ll be more of it along in half an hour or so. My only real regret from the game is that I didn’t “Yes, and…” quite as much as I should have – given it’s something I talk about a _lot_ this is bloody irritating. I *did* do it “when I do”, to individuals in individual scenes. I definitely “threw” one of my big scenes because it became about two other people, and it was more dramatic because of that. But I did it offering folk in to “my” scenes, and not so much to storylines I was offered. Bad Harry, no biscuit.

The new bit of jargon for me here was “Playing up” – simply a request to treat someone as if they were a certain kind of character. Essentially – it’s the rules-light version of stats and skills. No-one has Mage Bolt, they just say “Oh, I’m good at offensive magic”.

If you like a bit of crunch, you’ll hate this. Don’t go. If you are a confirmed PvPer, don’t do. You’d *hate* it. Don’t get me wrong, there are those hogs who aren’t up for sharing, and the fact you can’t simply stab them repeatedly in the face is irksome, but you can always avoid them.

5. It’s pretty much “what you see is what you get”.

It’s a lrp about a modern-day college of magic in a castle, which is in a castle. There’s no worries about costume being right or not – because its a modern day setting. There’s some pretty well phys-repped creatures, and some of the characters are non-human, but in general – what you see is what you get, and is just modern day but slightly odd.

If you are totally hard-line on phys-repping, don’t go. *Some* of the phys-repping isn’t terribly strong, and *some* people did cast fireballs  some of the time – which I wish they wouldn’t.

NB: I was one of those people.

6. It’s made me think about my lrp.

Some really useful lessons – see above.

And some things I think they could do different. A couple of bits of design – sorting, specifically – that could do with a sanding down.

Biggest for me was that the openness and player-led plot – and I mean that quite literally – means there’s not the space for some sorts of experimental investigation. There’s no “truth” beyond that defined by the players. I wandered off with a cold-iron knife which *could* have been super-special, or interesting for some *specific* reason, but had no way to find out if it _was_ or not. That did lead to a couple of good moments, simply because of what the phys-rep was – but I wonder what might have happened if it had had a UK-fest style “truth” to it as well.  I checked something else out in the ops. room – and they had no way to tell if a thing was “special”, so it may or may not have been. That was mildly irksome.

Essentially, though, they have a really strong mix of structured-fun and space for own-fun – and the after-party was great for talking lrp-theory with people from a wide variety of traditions. (In front of a shit-load of excellent drunks doing what people do at parties. The lrp-theory is not obligatory.)

If you don’t like to think about how your lrp could be better, don’t go. You will be challenged, and some of what you think will be wrong.

So, there’s six things. Story later.

13 thoughts on “CoW thoughts…

Add yours

  1. That sound rather fun. In it’s own context. I’ve played much smaller ‘players make the rules’ games that have worked really well (because the group were all good players and know about Rule 7). I wonder what the critical group size is for there to be definitely one ‘bad egg’ player.

    I shouldn’t be *that* hard to come up with some magical dueling rules? But in a game that sounds like it has no rules that might be tricky…

  2. Yeah, there _was_ a rule for dueling “No repeating a spell”: but actually in game, you could agree that that was more of a guideline…

    And _actual_ magical dueling ruleset is surprisingly hard to do – I’ve never found one I liked.

    1. I reckon you could get something with spell cards. I play my fazam card, you play counterspell, I empower mine with a flux card, you cancel the flux with a flux nulling flourish. You could give the cards verbal and hand waving components…

      Think munchkin combat where the monster card is a players opening spell. So you’d have spell cards and enhancement cards, Some might even night prop components to use.

      Hell, this stuff writes itself 😉

  3. This makes for an interesting read, and has flagged up some internal thoughts, so thank you!

    Internal thoughts mostly revolving around where I think I’d like to like this sort of game, but suspect I would not cope with this level of freeform, get mad at someone being a ‘hog’ and ruin it for myself in some fashion.

  4. There’s definitely some hogging, but the setting here at least gives enough structure to hang fun off even if you’re getting hogged. It’s very clever, and I’m racking my brains for a setting where you could do the same.

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