There’s no doubt there has been a rise in nerd culture, making it rather main stream. Too main stream, some might argue. I sympathize with this notion, since I’m one of those OG nerds. I mean, my only motivation to get up and go to school every morning, was that Pokemon Indigo aired an hour before school; my family’s Tuesday night centered around the next episode of Star Trek TNG or Voyager; the first adult book I remember reading was a custom edition of all four books in the LOTR series with hand painted art work; I still pull out my original Game Boy from time to time and I still choose Charmander; and for Spock’s sake my blog is named after my favorite animal, the Chocobo. So, this rise in nerd culture is a bit surprising, to say the least. Especially since so many of us were bullied or ridiculed at a young age. I was fairly confident in my nerd-tastic nature until I entered high school. In which, after attending a small school where I was welcome as is, I struggled with a bit of a complex and shoved that inner nerd deep down in order to hang with the popular crowd. However, in my now confident adult years I’ve decided to embrace this movement of nerd culture from dorky to main stream. Rather than be the grump old woman who shakes her fist and says, “I was a nerd before it was cool,” I now live the life I should have in my teen and early adult years, openly and proudly. I’ve embraced it so much in fact, that recently, at the ripe old age of 29, I booked a trip to Poland, to attend the College of Wizardry (COW) live action role play (LARP). That’s right, I moved into a castle for 4 days and lived the life of a witch named Soelle.
This is the first of many posts about CoW and this will cover part one of my off-game pre-LARP. ??? What do I mean by off-game experience? I will be writing from the perspective of Soelle a bit later on and that will be referred to as my in-game experience. So, anything written by me, Susanna, as Susanna’s experience is off-game and anything written by me, as Soelle’s experience will be in-game. Make sense? Great!
First, I’ll answer some questions I have been getting a lot of lately. What is a LARP and what types of LARPs are there? LARP stands for live action role play. You are a person role playing an event or action in the heat of the moment. Think of yourself as the player in your favorite video or board game and you’ll start to get the right idea in your head. If you don’t play video games or board games you’ll probably find this post really weird, but that’s ok, I welcome your judgement.
Even if you’re not a LARPer, you might already have an idea in your head of what LARP is. Maybe you watched Role Models, where the kids partake in LARP campaigns or you open a new tab right now and type in LARP Lighting Bolt and watch the movie. You know what, I’ll just embed it here, because it’s my favorite god damn LARPing video that exists.
This video is also my boyfriend’s favorite way to show people what his girlfriend ran off to Poland to do. As amazing as these LARP examples are, (though a bit dramatized) truth is they represent one type of LARP, the traditional style. In this type of LARP everything you do matters, every action you take can have a positive or negative effect on yourself, your team and your game. With this type of LARP you have a character you play and that character must compliment the others in the game. For example, you can’t have 5 healers and no close range warriors, otherwise you will only be able heal and you won’t be able to attack and KO your opponent. It’s a very technical game and a bit intense. Maths must be done to calculate HP (hit points) based on armor durability and weapon strength. You make decisions as a team to achieve a certain goal. This type of LARP can be a bit intimidating to get involved with. It’s hard to be a beginner and join a campaign willing to teach you the ropes. It’s not impossible, but I know I was always a bit intimidated by it.
Thankfully, a style of LARP called nordic LARPing came to save us first timers, theatrical drama queens and less technical geeks. College of Wizardry is one such nordic LARP and it is a VERY different type of LARP. Nordic LARPing is best described as an on-going murder mystery game, with less murder, (usually) or multi day interactive improv theater. You character here matters, but not quite as much. Ultimately, we do want to have a mix of good and evil characters; however you’re working together to create story lines, rather than attacking, killing or plundering treasure on a single quest or ongoing campaign. So, if your only friends at CoW are all good healers, it’s ok, you’ll still have a good game. Also, you can go hide in your room for hours at a time and generally it won’t effect anyone else’s game, unless you set a timed event. At CoW you create your character, move in to a castle and just try and live a “normal life,” as a witchard would. If you’re a determined player you can create engaging and intense story lines for yourself and your friends, or you can be more passive and let things happen to or around you, you decide. There is no wrong way to play a nordic LARP, which makes it amazing! My first impression of a nordic LARP was one of pure enjoyment and community.
Intro into the College of Wizardry World
The CoW world is set in a magical word, not too unlike a famous magically set book series, though we want to stay away from that-which-must-not-be-named label. You and your character attend a magical college, that lasts for three years. In this college there are five houses, Sendivogius, Faust, Molin, Durentius and Libussa. These houses all have their own house colors, mascots, personality traits (so you character may end up in a house based on their personality (creatives tend to end up in Libussa.. etc.) and house common rooms. There are prefects and professors, who oversee each house. The professors are played by other players, just like you, and teach a variety of classes from magical defense to Runic Magic. Another important aspect is your career path, there are Guardians, who act like the future police force, Cryptozoologists, who deal with magical creatures, Artificers who handle mundane technology as well as many others. There are three different years your character can be, a Junior or a new student, a Sophomore, or second year student and a Senior, the final class. Typically you interact with you house or those in the same grade or path as you, but everyone lives and plays under one roof.
There is also an entire world outside of CoW, just like there is an entire world outside of the university you attended. There are hexborns, or magic born, and Mundane born, born to a non-magical family, who often fight a racial like battle. Confluxes, which exist like modern day government systems, govern over different groups of witches and wizards. Students come from a variety of backgrounds and a variety of pre-college schools. There are werewolves, vampires and goblins who are the center of a creature rights battle. There are ancient and famous families and you may come across one of their heirs as a student. All these external plots, lend to the internal plot that takes place within the school. Your character’s place or beliefs in this external world can create friendships or arch enemies.
Photo Cred: Defy Gravity[/caption]
There is so much additional lore and storyline outside the four day LARP, a whole 500 page handbook was written by very creative and dedicated staff members. It is called the Czocha Student Handbook. You have access to this before the game online and you even get your very own to take home, in-game.
Selecting my Character
I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit nervous after signing up for this LARP. CoW WAS branded as a “Harry Potter” like LARP, even though they’re shying away from that title. So, for someone like me, who saw internet videos saying, “Go be Harry Potter for a weekend,” I thought great, I can do this! Then the complexity of the event came to light and I thought to myself “this is no Harry Potter land.” Looking back, I am glad it wasn’t like HP at all, but taking everything in before the game, the in-game social media, the costumes, the props, the relationship building was all overwhelming. I’m easily mistaken as one of the bravest and most bold extroverts you’ll ever meet. I throw myself into awkward situations around the world, and completely own them. I’m charming when you first meet me and I’ll tell you what I think of you to your face. So, how could the ever daring and brave Sooz be nervous? Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret, I’m a bit of an introvert. I enjoy relying on myself, my own company and my own thoughts. I don’t like relying on other people for my happiness or anything else really. I find small talk or forced non-genuine interaction rather boring and tiresome. I do enjoy genuine interactions with real people, but I am very selective on who I open up with enough to share these connections with. So, putting myself in a place where I had to interact, share a room and new experiences with 100 plus other people was a bit nerving. How on earth am I going to be able to create character relations, acting as a character who isn’t me with people who aren’t themselves? Meta, I know. Also, being a first time LARPer, I was nervous that perhaps this scene would be elitist or harsh to newbies, such as myself. But, with a reputation for being first time friendly and some good pre-game connections I was optimistic that I could do this.
I booked my ticket back in July 2016 and sort of had this on the back burner for several months, until I started getting emails about character identity information. I was to fill out a form and choose my preference of house, year or path. I can not tell you how much I stressed over this. What if I picked a “lame house” or a bad career. I thought that it would matter so much, so I read over a Design Document, (a 50 page doc given to us to learn about game mechanics, the 5 different houses and different career paths for witchards, class schedules and sporting rules) over and over again. I bothered my boyfriend, asking him what he thought the best option was until he went crazy! Finally, I settled on first and second house choices, Libussa and Sendivogius; I thought my character and myself would fit into these houses. They were creative and courageous, but they didn’t seem like asshole houses, that honored power and hexborn status. For my career I wanted to be a Curse Breaker, someone who might spend their time breaking curses in old tombs and such. I was thinking maybe I would be the witch version of Indiana Jones. My second choice was Artificer, someone who played with Mundane technology in order to progress the witchard world. That had a steam punk vibe to it and I liked that, my current wardrobe would work. Lastly, I choose I wanted more than anything to be a Sophomore, or second year. The description of the Junior, or first year, seemed to be that of a desperate and needy character. They would not receive houses from the start and they would spend the game trying to win over the affection of teachers and prefects to get initiation into houses. That sounded like a role of being in the spotlight and clawing your way to get noticed. Not a challenge I was up to, yet. The seniors on the other hand, seemed to have too much responsibility. I also choose to have a character written for me. This seemed like the best choice, having never LARPed before. I submitted all this information after days of stress.
To add to my stress I felt like there was so much information to read before the game. On top of the 50 page design document, we had a 500 page student handbook, Fireball sporting event rules, facebook group chats… I wasn’t sure what I should be focusing on or how much I should prepared. It was very daunting, which is why I will also be publishing a first time survivor guide to COW, stay tuned for that!
A few weeks went by and finally, our character results came in. I was a sophomore, (YAY! no needy begging Junior for me) Artificer and in the house Sendivogius. I got my first choice and two second choices. This wasn’t so bad! I read over my character description, given to me. She was horifically dark and emo; orphaned at birth, she wandered around reading dark poetry and trying to bring everyone down with her. “Hmm…” I thought, maybe I could do this, but as a genuinely happy person I might struggle with this. Not only that, but would anyone else want to be friends with this depressed and dark character? Probably not. With the freedom to change anything we wanted about our characters, except for year, house and path, Soelle slowly morphed into a bit of a bad ass rebel. She was still going to be orphaned, and despite having been born to hexborn parents, she wasn’t raised with any class. So, she was often friends with more questionable folk, werewolves, vampires and mundane born. She chewed with her mouth open and would often skip classes to go to the bar, or go to whatever class she wanted at the time. “Ok,” I start thinking, “I can own this character.” Maybe it was because she was a bit like me? But for my first LARP I thought that might be a good tactic to ease me into things. So, I put her to the test in some pre-game events.
Pre LARP in-game and off-game
I made several pre-game relationships. One was with another blogger and first time LARPer Laura of Completing My Bucketlist. Laura, in her self, made me a bit nervous. We had a social media platform, called Czochabook, which was like facebook, but for our characters. I would login and be Soelle, the witch, interacting with her school mates. Laura’s character seemed so bold and outgoing, if not outlandishly insane. I kept thinking to myself, “wow this girl really knows how to get into character!” I thought, as I struggled with my own character identity. Loe and behold after talking with her, she was a bit of an introvert herself and was quite nervous. This empowered me to really own my character, anything I did as Soelle, didn’t have to be what Susanna would do. In fact, I could even use Soelle to be more talkative than I am naturally, so, I started interacting on Czochabook, as Soelle, and more relationships developed.
I found myself in real life going to a music event with two Iranian DJs who escaped Iran in order to play techno music. I decided to pretend my character, Soelle was going to an equality rave, during the full moon. All creatures were welcome, mundanes, werewolves (under wolfsbane) vampires, golbins, the works. Soelle posted about the event to her college mates on Czochabook, and three other daring students decided they wanted to go with her. So, this opened up an entire in-game, pre-LARP, adventure for these four misfit characters. Assuming this meant our characters “went” and that was that, was a serious under-estimation on my part. Instead a facebook group chat was created with myself and the three other characters. It was here we discussed the elaborate events that happened that night. Balo, played by Laura B. sold part of her soul to a demon, thinking she was signing a contract to record soul music. Ewan, played by Dennis, made us all magical cocktails and woke up with a magical tattoo of a unicorn chasing a bull around his body. Maddy, played by Julia, made out with a fire performing Fey. My character got us back stage with the artists where, some fun party favors were handed out and she got into trouble with some vampires. This event turned into a month long relationship between our characters and frequent RPing (role playing) text exchanges. All this was opened up by a simple post on Czochabook.
We also had a facebook group for our session, COW11, an off-game facebook group chat and google hangouts. With all this, I began to feel more confident, my character and myself had some pre-game friends and she was starting to develop a personality. Little did I know this would actually create some unease for me later in the game…. but more on that later.
Costume and Packing
Now that I had an idea of who my character was, a trouble making Artificer, it was time to work out her costumes. (I’ll have a packing list available soon, so stay tuned, if you’re headed to COW) I knew I needed a wand, that was essential, and I found the most perfect wand from an Etsy shop called Morayah Paper. I bought a rustic looking brown wand, nothing too fancy, just perfect for Soelle. I also found these amazing steam punk elf and cat ears, from Starlit Skies. With this discovery I decided that my character would have mechanically and magically enhanced ears, she made as an Artificer. These would help keep her out of trouble or perhaps overhear any secrets that might work out in her favor. I also had to order some Sendi house swag from Liselle Made, so I could have house pride. Other than that, the rest of my outfits were mostly put together from things I already owned, a cut up grunge shirt, a pixie skirt, a blazer paired with a leather skirt. You are technically at a school and ideally they want you to look like you’re at a prep school, but you can interpret this as you want. I used prep school as a guideline and added an edgy flare for my costume inspiration. There is a ball at the event and I decided that my character would go from a bit grungy to a Sendi hottie, like a phoenix transformation. So, for this I used a cute red and silver cocktail dress (our house colors) that I already owned. I was told for the ball some people wear ball gowns and some people wear leggings and a cute shirt, so I figured whatever I had would be somewhere in the middle. We would be getting house robes and ties at the event, so I made sure to take this into consideration.
Aside from my outfits and ears, I needed some props. With the other characters that attended the pre-game rave, we started what was known as the Ancient Order of Mischief. This was a group that was to meet at midnight the first night of the event and play what was known as potion roulette. I needed some potions. A quick trip to the craft store, some glass paint and some other witchy decorations and I had three fun, corked viles. Since, I was to be flying, I didn’t fill them up yet, water from the castle would work fine, since I wanted them to be non-allergic and edible.
I really stressed about my costume and outfits, as everyone else seemed to be making things months in advance and have all these amazing LARP props. I sunk into a few etsy holes and almost spent hundreds of dollars, but I decided to just work with what I have, get a few fun accessories and own it. After I got there I was quite happy with my outfits. Of course, some people went over the top, but I wasn’t the least dressed up and there was no need to break the bank.
With that, it was time to head to Berlin where I would be catching a bus with other LARPers to Poland, where Czocha castle resides.