Archive for marraskuu 2014


Teaching Dark Arts at a Magic School

27 marraskuun, 2014

”You should never use the Torture Curse on a baby, especially an unborn one.”

This is a personal account of my experiences in the larp College of Wizardry played in Czocha Castle in Poland in Nov 13-15, 2014. The larp was set at a university in the world of Harry Potter.

College of Wizardry was a real emotional rollercoaster, with crying and laughing, grimacing and growling, cursing and charming, teaching and learning.

The castle. Picture by Liveforrm.

The larp was set in 2014 at a College of Wizardry and Witchcraft. Meaning that when kids graduate from Hogwarts or Durmstrang, and want to continue with their studies, the come here. The Harry Potter books were set in the 1990s, so this is around two decades after those events and the rise and fall of Lord Voldemort. Many teachers would still remember those times, but students had only just been born.

The illusion was really strong. The castle was great, it was wonderfully decorated by the set designers and the participants, the costumes were great, everybody played wonderfully, and there were enough special effects and costumed monsters to really create the feeling of living in a world of magic.

Students having dinner. Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

The larp was designed by a Polish-Danish team of organizers, and lasted for two and a half days. There were about a hundred student players, thirty or so staff players, and maybe fifty supporting characters and organizers. Altogether close to two hundred people. Maybe half of the larp was lectures, with the other stuff school politics, sorting into houses, initiation ceremonies, dancing, meetings, and adventures.

Professor Miclariotic (Christopher Sandberg) holding his class on Magical Artifacts. Picture by Christina Molbech.

Create your own character

The larp was more or less ”create your own character, but we give you a few pointers which you are free to ignore”. This meant that characters didn’t really have any pre-made relationships with other characters, but players would have to forge all those amongst themselves before the larp.

One way to do that was to contact individual players you knew from somewhere else, and agree that you are my enemy, or you are my old friend, or something in that vein. Facebook groups and live meetings were utilized for that. Another way is to start a group (like C.A.N.D.L.E., see below), and invite all other characters to join it if they would be interested in that. Third is to create a plot, and ask game masters link other characters to it, or invite them yourself during the larp. (I did this, too, creating a mystery around the disappearance of my predecessor.) I’m sure there are lots of other possibilities, too, but as this sort of thing is rarely done in Finland, I’m no expert.

One of the mane secret passageways. This one leads from the Library to Bane’s classroom. Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

For some larps this kind of thing can work, but when you are trying to create a community, it’s not a very good method. It meant, for example, that the Potter style ”who’s related to whom” thing is very difficult, as everyone has a different family name. Or trying to introduce a ”murder mystery” after all the characters are finished, and trying to ask the organizers to find the culprit. I don’t know if someone was actually contacted saying ”Oh, by the way, you killed the previous Professor.”

In Finnish larps family relations, multiple relations to other characters, plots and intrigues, murders and the like would have been an obvious part of a character description, but I’ve heard it goes against the Danish style, because someone might not want to play that. (”In soviet Finland, the game plays you.”)

As far as I’ve understood, the Polish writers would’ve preferred to write personalities, plots and relations, but were told not to according to some Danish aesthetic. Similarly, us Finnish players almost had to force the Danish organizers into allowing us to create a timeline for the staff. As in who’s been in Czocha for how long, who remembers which events, who used to be a student under whom, and so on. We felt it would be impossible to forge our character relations without it, while the Danes felt it would be unnecessary and clunky and only hinder improvisation. Personally, I think the Polish/Finnish style would have suited this larp much better.

All that said, personally I had a great time at the larp, and received very much support from the organizers whenever I did come up with some plot, faction or need. Our agreements didn’t always become common knowledge to all the other players, but still.

Potions lab. Picture by Cosmic Joke.

Professor Bane

I played Bombastus Bane, Professor of Dark Arts. Defense Against the Dark Arts, I mean.

Just before Expecto Patronum. Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

I wanted to make Bane seem as evil as possible without getting him in jail. Everyone is sure he’s a former Death Eater but they can’t prove it. Everyone knows he teaches Dark Arts, but he’s never been caught. He just looks so evil.

And by evil I don’t mean real-world evil like anti-gay, but Potter evil meaning he dresses in black, has a distorted face and voice, and hates head Auror Harry Potter with a vengeance. Sort of like Czocha’s very own Severus Snape.

I went out of my way to have evil make-up, ridiculous Wicked Witch of the West hat, red-and-black robes, fresh tattoos where the Dark Mark would have been, and a scary voice. Many people complemented me on the voice afterwards, and I heard many students made fun of it during the larp. So it worked quite well.

Bane in his ridiculous hat talks with Janitor Igor Vadenko (Mikko Pervilä). Picture by Sofie Falk.

To have a little twist to this, I figured Bane wasn’t born bad and had a good ”soul.” This was reflected in his beautiful pearly white wand, his swan Patronus, his heart tattoo, and his tragic love for his imprisoned family. This was the inner layer of Bane that some got to see and many guessed at during the larp.

Bane was also the founding member of the Czocha chapter of C.A.N.D.L.E. It stood for ”Committee Advocating Natural Dark-Light Equality,” and was envisioned as a sort of ”evil Amnesty.” An ineffectual college political association that wants to close down Azkaban, stop Auror misconduct, stop pure blood harrassment, and so on. All perfectly reasonable political goals which just happen to be very Death Eater friendly. Treatment of Muggle-born witched and wizards was not the prime concern for C.A.N.D.L.E. (That said, many non-dark witches and wizards did start to sympathize the organization during the run of the larp.)

But for the most part I tried to be as comic book evil as possible, on the border between silly and scary, between obvious villain and tragic anti-hero.

Family tragedy

What some people knew is that Bane’s whole family (mother, father, wife) had been in Azkaban since the war. What no one knew was that Bane’s wife had been pregnant at the time of imprisonment, and had given birth to their son Vladimir in Azkaban. Vladimir had grown up there surrounded by Dementors and criminals.

Friday at lunch Bane received a letter informing him that his wife had passed away at Azkaban. Bane left the dining room to ponder on this in the Dark Forest. (And while there, I realized my natural playing style demands for several long hours alone pondering about this. But the playing style of this larp would actually benefit from me making this as public as possible.) After Bane’s disbelief had turned to anger, he returned to the dining hall to attack the Auror Caitlin O’Doherty, who’d just spent a year in Azkaban ”studying” the prisoners. Clearly she had killed Bane’s wife!

Ministry official politely asks Professor Bane not to point his wand at the Auror Caitlin O’Doherty accusing her of killing his wife. In the foreground another professor continues with his lunch. Between the official and Bane, the prominent nose of a Gringotts goblin asking what to do with the property of Bane’s wife, of whose death he had just been informed. (Azkaban tells the bank before they tell the relatives, apparently.) Photo by Jean-Paul Bichard.

Wands were drawn and death threats growled in front of horrified students, but eventually O’Doherty managed to drag Bane to his classroom to explain the thing.

”You’re wife was very sick, had been for a long time,” she said. ”He would have died anyway. But what you must know is that she didn’t die naturally. She was killed.”
”By your son Vladimir.”
”He wanted to save her from further pain. But now he will be accused of murder. Only you can help him, if you prove you are working against the Dark Wizards.”
”I’m trying to help you!”

She managed to convince Bane his son had killed his wife. All the fault of the Ministry, of course, but still.

The Auror Caitlin O’Doherty (Mia Häggström). Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

Crying at the Sorting

What really broke Bane’s heart (and mine) was the Sorting Ceremony on the evening of that day. Looking at all the new juniors walking to their houses, and being cheered, Bane suddenly realised Vladimir was nineteen, and this year he would have been a junior.

Sorting Ceremony. Picture by Christina Molbech.

Thinking that if Vladimir hadn’t grown up in Azkaban he would’ve been sorted into Faust, and Bane would’ve been so proud. Or sorted into some other house, and Bane would have had petty arguments with his son. And Vladimir would be so excited about all those student crushes and initiation rituals and all the ordinary life of the nineteen-year-old wizard.

And maybe his mother Miranda would have been there on the balcony with Bane watching him. I cried in and off for an hour about this, first looking down at the ceremony, and after that when the Feiersinger witch too me aside I poured my heart out to her.

I still get a little misty thinking about that. What could have been.

Laurent liaison

The larp wasn’t all sad, far from it. It combined tragedy, comedy, romance, mystery, school life, and all the other great elements that make the Potter books magic.

The love story part for Bane was mostly about his wife. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a little time for a secret romance with a student. (It perhaps doesn’t make sense in real-world terms, but there is an internal realism to the whole experience. Perhaps like the emotions and events of a whole school year packed into two and a half days.)

Titienne Laurent was Bane’s least favorite student, kind of like a female Potter to my Snape. Laurent was a good student, but as a Muggle-born, could not understand Bane’s hatred for Aurors. Bane hated her guts, and she his. Too bad they had a mutual attraction going on.

Laureeeeeen (Josefin Westborg). Perhaps their shared love of stupid hats brought them together? Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

They had never spoken about their feelings until the day when Bane lost his wife. They met discreetly in the secret cellar, having descended many, many stairs. She wanted to discuss her studies, her investigations and the Torture Curse. Bane couldn’t concentrate.

Laurent, unwillingly, concoled him.
Five minutes later, they were doing the dirty against the cellar wall.

By the next day Laurent had already fallen in love with another student. (Talix, it turned out after the larp.) She and Bane met again at the Secret Cellar where someone had drawn a huge magic circle.
She thought she shouldn’t see Bane before she knew if the infatution would leave to an actual relationship.
”What you and I had, Professor, was just sex. Really good sex.”
”Professor Bane, I hate you.”
They were shortly interrupted by two Professors trying to find Death Eaters, and seeing Bane there with the obvious remains of a summoning spell, made them suspicious.

”It doesn’t work like that for me.”
Awkward silence.

Play to lose

Larps of the Nordic tradition differ from American larps in that there are virtually no rules. That is to say, we didn’t have Magic Points, skill checks, or anything that would get in between the player and the characters, or the character and the world.

How did this work? Very simply: Everything that you can and will do, you do for real. Meaning running, arm wrestling, sleight of hand, and so on. Stuff like sex and death that you can do, but don’t necessarily want to do, you pretend to do. And then there’s magic.

There was a lot of magic in the form of spells, artifacts, monsters, curses, potions, omens, portents, ghosts, and so on. To create a list of every possible spell and potion and their combinations would’ve taken forever, and would have made for very dull reading. So they didn’t.

The magic system for spells was very simple: You point your wand at someone, describe what you attempt to do, and then the victim decides what happens. Staff always wins duels against students.

At one instance I pointed my wand at our Quidditch coach (who was actually a dark wizard polyjuiced as the coach), and yelled: ”Paralyzio!” The player got it immediately, and pretended to be paralyzed. (I know there’s also the actuall Potter spell Stupefy, but I couldn’t think of it in the moment.)

The coach’s player could’ve said ”Deflecto!” if he’d wanted, and then we would have had a magical duel, but in my experience most of the time people played to lose, and most spells had the desired effect. (I had some students cast spells on me that I could’ve decided to ignore, but didn’t.)

No one was at the larp to win all the magic duels, or have the most powerful character, but to immerse in the world of Harry Potter. And for that you don’t need much more rules than that.

Lessons in torture

Much of the larp was taken by actual magical schoolwork. Bane had just become Professor of Defense Against the Darks Arts II (or DADA2 for short), having taught DADA1 for many years. This meant he would teach the students how to defend against the Unforgivable Curses, which include… Class? Yes! The Torture Curse, the Imperius Curse, and, of course, the Killing Curse.

Bane teaching his class.

To learn how to defend against them, the students would first have to understand them and learn how to cast them. Since they are Unforgivable, this posed a bit of a problem, but Bane had it all figured out.

(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.)

Bane’s favorite student Norah Asar, and least favorite student Titienne Laurent both want to speak their mind.


Professor Bane would teach the Torture Curse in the Torture Dungeon. In his hand are one-use wands used to cast the Imperius Curse on the one who will later cast the Torture Curse. (Otherwise it would be quite illegal.)


Bane and the one-use Imperius wands. Picture by John-Paul Bichard.

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.”), and each pair was given one of these wands. Then 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). He 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?”
At this Bane remembered how his own pregnant wife had been taken to Azkaban to be tortured by Dementors.
Class snickers.
More snickering.


The larp was extensively photographed, and the film crew Cosmic Joke was there making a documentary film about the larp. They filmed the whole thing and conducted player interviews after the larp.

Teaser for the Cosmic Joke documentary.

I would have preferred clearer information about where these photos and videos would be used, and a shared understanding nothing would get shared without player permission. (And from a legal point of view, Cosmic Joke might enjoy having signed release forms from all the players.)

But that’s a minor nitpick. Go check out the galleries, they’re great!

John-Paul Bichard’s photos.

Christina Molbech’s photos

Cosmic Joke, batch I

There will be a sequel on April 9-12, 2015. And a rerun of the original on April 16-19, 2015. Stay tuned…

The school coat of arms by Tia-Carolina Ihalainen.