CoW18: That was a blast.

March last year, I went to College Of Wizardy, the not-harry-potter-at-all-larp run by Dziobak Studios. It was my first larp outside the UK, and kicked off a year-and-a-bit hat’s profoundly affected the way I think about what I do at lrp events, whether I’m crewing, organising or playing. It was amazing, thanks to the UK folk I went with, and the friends I met there.

I blogged about it a bit here: in design terms, I’d describe it as a sandbox larp with some bones to it.

It’s a sandbox, in that there’s little or no “plot” driven by the organisers. What they *do* do is support scenes the players want to happen with NPCs and props, and provide some tiny character sketches to help you think about who you want to play. Pre-planning is encouraged; if you’re a second or third year it makes a lot of sense that you’ll know the folk you’ve been at college with, and the professors who’ve taught you and you’re encouraged to build those relationships before the game so you don’t go in cold. 

The bones are the lessons the professors teach, and more experienced folk than I have written some great words between them as to how to provide good play as a professor. There’s also a House Trophy where students in five houses gain and lose points and the winner gets a cup. More on that in a bit.

I’d decided before I went to the 12th run of College of Wizardry (CoW12) last year, that it was going to be a one-off. Just to see how a particular continental larp – note, not Nordic, as it’s not quite Nordic, or so I gather – would work out for me, as part of a group of ace UK folk. I decided after then event I’d done being a student – I’d covered all I really wanted to do, but maybe I’d be on the staff if an opportunity turned up. 

And then the guy who was one of my House Prefects got a shot at Headmaster, and a pack of the House I’d been part of at CoW12 said they were all going to go for staff positions. And I figured the only way to get rid of a temptation was to yield to it. (Irritatingly, the invite I *thought* had happened asking the UK folk I’d gone to Cow12 with to come along and staff *too*…. Never happened. But there it is.)

I pitched for professor, and got Janitor. “The what now?”, I thought, given I’d never spoken to the Janitor at Cow12… 

Janitor.

In charge of recording and collating points awarded in the House Trophy competition; of maintaining 100% accurate IC paperwork; and of maintaining order amongst a community of characters built to rail against authority.

Or to put it another way, if James Dean had been a student, when he asked “Whaddya got?”, the answer would have been: “The Janitor.”

Now, this is my home turf in crewing terms, and my default playstyle at least tries to make play for others, so this is/was well within my scope. No worries.

(Although, I was the third UK larper to be Janitor of Czocha: Ian Andrews and John Shockley had done the role before so there’s some boots to fill there. Still, this is a role I know I can do.)

Mr Collins

And so was born Tom Collins, Janitor of the Czocha College of Witchcraft and Wizardry, run 18.

I was asked for a thumbnail back in March: “Dolores Umbridge in brown, running a house point-based Economy Of Betrayal, where those who snitch on the activities of their dearest friends are well-rewarded.”

That didn’t all last. Janitor is a key role in the game. Make a mess of the House Cup points and you break a load of folks’ game. So the “Umbridge” bit was mostly ditched, replaced by a dog-like loyalty to the head and just enough characterisation to cover the fact that – in my mind – he was really a game function.

(And yes, he was named after a cocktail. I seem to recall it being Brittany Handy‘s fault.)

Character sketch…

Following was in a format invented by Peter Edgar for a slew of “Know your staff” graphics he did, so folk could know the people they’d known for months, or years.

About the member of staff:

Loyal martinet.

Janitor Tom Collins joins Czocha from Oxton’s of London, a wand shop run by the family of the new headmaster. While there, he was responsible for security. Security of the premises, and security of the business in the wider sense.

As a person:

Tom does not relax, nor does he socialise. Tom doesn’t let anyone in his head.

Tom thinks the student body – and in fact, most of the world – is rats, cats and terriers.

Rats are filthy creatures, with no respect. Most students are rats until proven otherwise. Cats are acceptable, or at least they aren’t rats, and they have some sense of style, and occasionally kill a rat or two. Most prefects are probably cats, unless they obviously aren’t.

Terriers are best of all. Terriers hunt rats, and do what they are told, and know their place.

Tom is a terrier.

Tom knows who his masters are, and Tom knows what his job is.

Known conflicts or secrets:

Tom has an obvious dislike of the fae.

“The fae are wonderful. They provoke wonder. The fae are marvellous. They cause marvels. The fae are fantastic. They create fantasies. The fae are glamorous. They project a glamour that is lies. The fae are enchanting. They weave enchantment. The fae are terrific. They beget terror. The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning. No one ever said the fae are nice. The fae are bad.”

The fae are awesome. They inspire awe, if you’re not careful. Tom is careful.

An introduction to the Janitor, laid out by Peter Edgar.

Most late-40s British geeks could have given playing Tom a good shot, given the character was just three or four cultural references welded together. But if you’d not seen one particular TV show, read two books – then he’d seem amazing. As it was – well, I was very proud, yes. Collins was actually a performance.

(The TV show? Porterhouse Blue, which I loved 30 years ago, but I suspect has not aged well…  The books less obscure: Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies and any of the ones with the Unseen University in. Mr Collins was a bledlow if he was anything.)

Moments…

Jeez, so many. Three or four interrogations in the course of investigating who let a fae who wasn’t a student into the castle. Torturing a student with possession of her happy memories until the investigation was over. The theatre of changing the levels in the water-powered House Cup results indicator in front of an attentive audience, every single time. Muttering as I walked the corridors, (OOC, making sure I was loud enough so that miscreants could escape before I got to them.) Selling pixies to the Pale Man when someone got the school rules changed so keeping them enslaved was banned. The couple of times Head turned to ask me to fetch something, to find me holding it out for him. Telling students that it’d be dreadfully sad if there was any ill-discipline in the college while my beloved Head was under temporary replacement by the evil Head Guardian and that I’d be in the bath humming loudly for the remainder of the afternoon. Giving the plagiarised “fae are awesome” speech, every single time. (Thank you Terry Pratchett) Telling a student who *was* a fae, that she may have been a rat, but she was *my* rat and her mum the Queen couldn’t have her… Every time someone noticed my hat was lined with tinfoil, and asked why. (It was to ward off face mind control.) Every time I walked past the posters of college rules in the great hall.

See, it’s already fading. I really should have written this the moment i walked out the door.

Image credit: Kamil Wędzicha #collegeofwizardry #cowlarp#dziobaklarpstudios

More on Facebook here. More images here. And even more images here.

Observations…

I know this is 99% just me frothing about a fun performance, but a couple of things stuck in the post-event froth.

I said at the time, that one of the beautiful things about CoW18 was the generosity of play shown by a load of new players. Then someone asked what that meant and I struggled to answer. An example: I forgot to ask a key question during one interrogation, and the player came back later and confessed the answer. In PvP, they’d not have done that, but it made more game that they had. Generous with secrets.

Colin Cummins said

There were a few people key to Kazimir outing himself as mundane(dud)-born, and Pearl was definitely a big one. 

Seeing how she got through the pain of her secret being revealed by relying on friends and loved ones showed him a way forward.

(Offgame, this was a big revelation for me too. There is sometimes the desire to have your secret be unique, and I’ve fallen into that trap before. The way this whole plotline played out taught me that having other people in similar situations to you is a _great_ way to drive play. It gives you something to empathize with and to contrast your own reactions to.)”

Colin Cummings, somewhere on Facebook.

That’s neat, is that. It’s my prejudice that unique is over-valued at larp, and a good reason to advise people *not to be* unique is worth its weight in gold.

This was going to lead into “How I thought about playing Janitor”, but that’s a whole post of itself I think now, which will lean on this on playing staff from Peter Edgar, and this from many hands on playing a professor.

One last thing, though:

 “i would even go so far as to say you were 2 parts flich to 1 part hagrid. so awful and yet loyal to the headmaster and the school.”

Melina Karu on Facebook.

That’ll do. 🙂

Mr Collins, art by Vera Rehaag

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