“You become the hero, your choices matter, [and] you aren’t just watching the story happen or imagining it while reading. The experience is powerful and it changes people’s lives.”
–Maury Brown, New World Magischola co-lead organizer
What does it take to create a magical world worthy of a LARP event? There isn’t a definitive process, but most great creations are born from an inspiring experience. In 2015, Learn LARP President and CEO Maury Brown and her business partner Ben Morrow embarked on an incredible LARP journey in Poland. The pair of seasoned LARPers attended the The College of Wizardry (CoW) and embarked on a real-life Hogwarts-style adventure in a majestic castle as students of magical arts. According to Brown, CoW gave them the push to build a LARP world of their own:
“Ben and I have been enthusiastic LARPers for quite a while, and had talked a lot of theory and design regarding LARP, what it teaches us, [and] what people come away from the experience with. We’d even talked a bit about LARPS that we’d want to try to organize for others, but it wasn’t until we experienced College of Wizardry that we felt that we absolutely must share our amazing experience with others here [in the United States of America].”
The journey toward creating their own university for magical arts, New World Magischola (NWM), had to happen. Maury and Ben developed a realm called the Magimundi, a concealed magical world comprised of five provinces in North America. Each province’s background is heavily influenced by the history, geography, and traditions of its real-world counterparts. The Magimundi’s history spans over 500 years and features well-developed characters, conflicts, class systems, and even detailed information about their currency (the Leeuwendaalder).
Similar to CoW, Maury wanted New World Magischola to be a 4-day training ground for future wizards and witches complete with student housing, full-day curriculums, and extracurricular activities. To build the world and school out, Maury and Ben conducted candid conversations and preemptive Q&As, but as the story began to unfold, it was clear that they needed a system in place to organize the growing catalog of events and terminology:
“We have a pretty extensive Google drive with the information sorted into folders, and we’ve started using Trello as well to keep us on task. Also, the wall of post-it notes to keep track of 160 characters in five houses from five Primascholae (magical primary schools), following six majors each with six or seven subtypes, of three years, from three kinds of heritage. And their family trees.”
While a post-it notes version of NWM is impressive, Maury knew it would take a village to bring those concepts to fruition. In addition to her experience with curriculum design and program management in the education sector, she teamed up with artists, developers, and software engineers to help create the framework that serves as the spine of the school’s overall logistics. This process helped the team with building character sheets, course schedules, rosters, and even a quiz for participants to find which house is best for them.
Maury also built a close relationship with the College of Wizardry as a member of their organizer team for three past events. One example of how NWM differs from other LARPs is its approach to character design and development. Magischola LARPers have a high level of autonomy over their characters through a collaborative process with Maury’s team. And, according to her, this provides a unique experience for participants:
“People in the United States who are used to LARPing are used to designing or rolling their own characters based on statistics and skills and attributes and classifications like races or archetypes. That isn’t the case with our design, as we write the character concepts in collaboration with the players, balancing them to create conflicts and relationships. So in addition to the development of these things, there is an educational component as well, as we are bringing a new type of design and experience to North America, one that has been experienced by only a few people, and not on a design of this scale.”
Another key factor in creating New World Magischola’s LARP event was finding a host location. As a Virginia resident, Maury scoured several universities for a place with all the right visual and logistical elements. The University of Richmond won them over with its magical Gothic feel, arched doorways, and looming towers. The historical school’s aesthetic appeal, easy of accessibility for participants, and friendly staff made the decision a win-win situation. Transforming the university into NWM was yet another collaborative project. Costume designers, prop-makers, set designers, game organizers, and theatre choreographers from around the world were assembled to bring the magic university to life.
Maury and Ben knew that people desired an American counterpart to the College of Wizardry and wanted to create a narrative to reflect the highs and lows of American history. But, despite some negative aspects of culture present in the historical background, they wanted the actual LARP experience to be positive. Unlike the combat resolution system in many US LARPs, players have full control over their reactions to other LARPers (referred to by NWM as “opt-in with consent”). There are also safe spaces for participants if they become too overwhelmed. The unique design choices combined with embracing diversity and a low barrier to entry (cost & costume wise) attracted both first-time and seasoned LARPers. Supporters showed love for new program via Kickstarter, as it raised almost ten times its modest $35K goal within days. That’s right, over $300,000 was raised to fund four weekends of magic in June and July.
New World Magischola has now taken on a life that extends beyond the summer LARP events. Maury and the crew are currently working on providing a LARP event for children next year, as well as partnering with novelist Cassandra Khaw on a series of books that tie into the school. Maury and Ben have also launched a Kickstarter for their tie-in book, Compendium of Cryptids & Magical Creatures. And, there are hopes of Magimundi novels, TV series, and a possible film in the future. Now, that’s how you create an entire world!
If New World Magischola sounds like the right LARP event for you, head over to their website and try to snag a spot at in their last round of July dates!
Image Credits: Lars Bundvad/Learn Larp, LLC, New World Magischola