City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

A friend of mine recommended City of Stairs (The Divine Cities #1) to me, and I picked it up not knowing much about what to expect. The genre is alternative world / fantasy, set in a sort of Victorian, or early 1900 era of technology.

In some ways the plot is the best kind of whodunit, starting with a murder investigation that ends up spiraling into something else entirely. There is a lot of dramatic tension and drive, and it’s one of the most “stay up into the night to finish the chapter” books I’ve had a pleasure to read in a while.

While the prose isn’t as gorgeous and lyrical as, say, Rothfuss’s, the writing and setting and plot is clever. Clever in an intellectual sense, clever in the way it dangles shinies in front of the reader to give pause and reflection. Clever in the way that this entirely alien world really isn’t, and judging the characters’s actions and the justness of the world can’t happen without contrasting it with ours.

The characters are maybe not all that deep but they’re interesting and original and good vehicles for exploring all the things the author has to say about things and events.

And all the while the book is a great straightforward mystery/adventure tale to boot, with great pacing. Nitpicking that some of the terms and language are a bit anachronistic feels awfully curmudgeony.

Highly recommended, four stars.

Posted by Toivo Voll in Book Review

The Invisible Library Series by Genevieve Cogman

The series consists of The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Burning Page and the Lost Plot (at least one additional book is slated for publication later this year.)

The setting ticks so many boxes. We live in a multiverse, although most of the residents of the worlds in this multiverse do not know it. Connecting most of these worlds is The Library, an ancient institution that collects books from the various worlds to preserve knowledge and other reasons. It employs Librarians to acquire these books. There are two other factions — dragons who embody order, and fae who embody chaos.

The protagonist is one of these Librarians and her apprentice, and they find a lot of challenges in their seemingly simple task.

The protagonist is great; while there’s a bit of Mary Sue-ism, she has a great internal dialogue that not only sets up moral decisions, but is also funny.

The setting as a whole builds up so many great characters, plot hooks and places that it seems a pity if they won’t be followed up on. As it stands, there are some that seem to be abandoned half-way through, and I can only hope they will get revisited in the future before the ball of plot becomes too unmanageable.

Another very enjoyable aspect is the prose itself. It flows effortlessly, the dialogue is nice, and the vocabulary is unusually rich.

And yet the books are shy of being great. The Masked City in particular was the weakest of the series for me, as it was filled with cinematic action that got to be too much. The pacing and dramatic tension in general doesn’t seem to quite work, although The Lost Plot is perhaps the best in this regard, so hopefully the future works continue with those lessons learned. Whatever it is, the series has all the ingredients to be great, but so far only achieves goodness. They’re easy books to recommend, but not books that keep me up wanting to finish the chapter.

Three and a half stars for the series, except three for The Masked City.

Posted by Toivo Voll in Book Review

Visit to Munich

This past weekend I made a quick visit to Munich. It’s one of my favorite cities, and it’s within reasonably easy reach from me (about four hours per train). I do need to find a way to find discount train tickets, though!

The first thing I meant to do after I dropped off my bag at the hotel was to find an electronics store I had been to as a child and see what they were selling these days — assuming they were open. Instead I stepped out of the local train into a mass demonstration against the new police powers act. I have to say that seeing such civic involvement to defend people’s privacy and rights was quite emotional. Good for you, Munich!

Eventually I moved towards a late lunch to the nearby Zum Dürnbräu restaurant. Talk about history; the location has been serving travelers food for over 500 years in the same place. It’s currently asparagus season (here in Switzerland the headquarters cafeteria has asparagus weeks, the super market restaurant has asparagus specials, asparagus everywhere!) Consequently the seasonal menu here also offered asparagus dishes. I opted for a chicken dish, which was indeed very good, combining two kinds of asparagus in a cream sauce. Entrees came with complimentary pretzels, and I added a radler to stay hydrated walking around the city, and since it seemed appropriate for the setting.

Chicken with pepper sauce; white and green asparagus in cream sauce; served with red cabbage, onion, mashed potatoes, fried onions, chives, parsley and assorted other spices.

Complimentary pretzels.

Refreshing radler.


The next day was mostly spent at Deutsches Museum.

In short, it’s the world’s best science museum. There may be others that have a bigger collection of a specific thing, but considering the breadth of their collection — aviation, trains, ships, astronomy, chemistry, biology, mining, machinery, computing, mathematics, physics, ceramics and so forth — they’re unrivaled. They have a staggering collection of historic instruments and specimens of a wide variety.

One particular favorite of mine are the classic physics and chemistry hands-on experiments. They haven’t changed much in half a century, but as great experiments that allow you to grasp concepts of physics they’re fantastic. Things like capacitors where you can vary the distance of the plates and insert dielectric materials between them, all the while observing changes to the inter-plate voltage, complete with an explanation of how things are related. Unfortunately many of the classic sections still have rather lacking English translations.

Another favorite are the guided tours. A few of them require registration and an additional fee, but most are free of charge. They range from playing around with liquid nitrogen or microscopy to more detailed walks through specific departments. This time I was one of only two people taking the mining tour through their extensive staged mining section (showing history of mining, and various types of mines); the tour was led by a former miner, and to my surprise many of the exhibits turned out to be operational, as the tour guide operated wagon lifts, water pumps, and excavators. Once more, the tours are usually limited to German.

The second tour was geodesy; here I was the only person who showed up, so I got a pretty personal tour through a number of the items on display, and discussion about local history as it related to mapping and cartography in the middle ages.

The final guided event for me was the microscopy presentation. This had a lot less to do with actual technology, and was mostly about showing interesting things imaged with the museums scanning electron microscope. The presenter was funny and interactive, he took questions and adjusted what he showed based on the interest of the audience. We did get a brief demonstration of the live view and capabilities of the electron microscope with samples in real time, and ended things by preparing a piece of dried moss in an optical microscope, finding a tardigrade, and waking it up. Overall the session was supposed to take less than an hour, but we spent closer to two hours at it, and I was convinced to buy the museum’s book on the topic, as they are actively involved in using their instrument to do research with other organizations in the region, and independent research on their own. It turns out there is an amazing amount of stuff we do not know about sub-millimeter animals.

For dinner I stopped at a recommended vegan kebab joint, Erbil’s. Most of the fare was what you’d expect in your average kebab restaurant, except meat dishes were made with seitan; it’s even cooked on a vertical rotisserie. In addition there were other delicacies, vegan lasagne, desserts etc. 

Falafel at Erbils.

For my final day I visited the Deutsches Museum’s new traffic annex. While new and offering a fair bit more space, I was not quite as impressed by it. Showcased were old trains, subway cars, trucks, cars, and motorcycles, but I felt like there was not as much information on some of the topics as I would have liked. Their selection of bicycles, I have to mention, was quite impressive, from the earliest to modern, including a reproduction of a traditional bicycle workshop. As the main museum is undergoing renovations, expected to finish in 2020, some of the exhibits were being moved around; there were a few rocket-powered cars from the rocketry exhibit in the traffic annex, though with next to no additional information. They also had a section of train signals, but with no good explanation on what they meant or signaled. On the other hand, they did have interactive exhibits on hydraulic torque converters, different types of transmissions, differentials and brake systems. The star there was a full-sized 6×6 truck drivetrain with cleverly placed plexiglass windows which allowed visibility into the operation of all the components from engine to wheels.

After the museum visit, I had the good fortune of meeting up with some friends at the Hungriges Herz bistro, followed by ice cream at True & 12.

Overall a great way to spend a few days.

Marienplatz in Munich.

Posted by Toivo Voll in Travel

Hurricane — The Fears

a CBP Air and Marine black hawk aircrew works to bring a surviving family into the aircraft after being hoisted to safety.   August 30, 2017 Photo by Alexander Zamora

a CBP Air and Marine black hawk aircrew works to bring a surviving family into the aircraft after being hoisted to safety. August 30, 2017
Photo by Alexander Zamora

This is the first in a multi-part posting about life with hurricanes. I’ve added a few explicit details to non-US audiences.

When you live in Florida, the threat of hurricanes is a part of life. As far as natural disasters go, they’re not too bad; there’s typically plenty of warning so you can prepare or evacuate, and unless you live in a flood-prone area or near the shore, the danger is manageable. Nonetheless, there is that little reminder just lurking in the far corners of your mind reminding you that you’re living here at the mercy of Mother Nature.

But what exactly is that threat?

Fundamentally it is fear for both one’s literal life and for one’s figurative life. Being hurt by the direct impact of the storm,  subsequent flooding, looting and violent crime after the storm on one hand, and losing one’s possessions, and the resulting emotional pain and the economic consequences on the other. For people with families and pets, this fear extends to their loved ones. How high the risk of these things is depends a lot on whom you ask, and often people’s perception doesn’t match with reality. Overall, being hit by a major hurricane in any one location in mainland Florida, especially on the Gulf Coast, is relatively low. Tampa Bay for example has not been hit since 1921, although both Charley and Irma were very close calls.

I live in a house built in 2007, so it incorporates all the updates to hurricane building codes following both the devastation from Andrew and the 2004-2005 hurricane seasons. This means the roof isn’t likely to go flying off, and the windows won’t blow in or shatter, and the structure should stay sound. I’m inland, and my lot hast not flooded in the past decade, and I’m not listed in even the latest flood plain maps as being in a flood zone. For anything below a category 4 hurricane the house should be just fine unless I get unlucky and some object comes flying through my window or patio doors, or we get a truly massive amount of rainfall, in which case any place can suffer from flash floods.

I have insurance, but hurricane insurance has very high deductibles, in the thousands of dollars, it’s only really useful against catastrophic loss. Worse, much of the damage may be caused by water (your window or roof breaks, and the house is inundated by driving rain) and unless you have flood insurance it may be an uphill battle to fight with the insurance company whether the water damage will or will not be covered.

In the case of Hurricane Irma, my most immediate rational fear was damage to the building, resulting in a lot of hassle and stress, fighting with insurance, finding contractors to repair the house and make it habitable (when millions of other people are competing for their business), finding  a lawyer to deal with insurance (when millions of other people are competing for their help), significant financial loss, and loss of items of emotional importance. The secondary fear was of discomfort and inconvenience; days or weeks with no air conditioning and possible mosquitoes if the windows got broken. Both of these were high-impact/low-probability fears, but ones that I could do realistically do something about, and the magnitude of a bad outcome warranted the caution in my mind. The fear of physical injury or death was pretty far down the list.

Fears of running out of medication, food, water, or not having a place to sleep I had been able to counter by preparing for the storm, and will go into those things in more details in a later post about preparing for a hurricane.

I used to drive by the FEMA camps from Hurricane Charley and saw the years it can take a community to get back on its feet and having all the buildings fixed, so I have no assumptions of workers showing up the week after and get things fixed up in quick order.

I cannot in good conscience end without mentioning that I realize my privilege. I have insurance, and I can survive financially having to spend some nights in a hotel, or having to take Uber to work if my car is damaged, and I can buy supplies ahead of time. I live in a fairly safe community, where I have little fear of looting or not having emergency services available, and I have an employer who will not fire me if I have to stay home to deal with a crisis or evacuate. Indeed, I have a car and the money for gas which allows me to even entertain the idea of evacuating. I have a social support network with the means to lend me housing, tools and other assistance if necessary. Not everyone, including some of my friends, have these capabilities, and to them many of the threats that I do not have to fear are very real.

Posted by Toivo Voll in Hurricane

The Case for Desired-State Configuration and YANG

I’ve been spending a while now using Solarwinds Orion configuration scripts to harmonize and update configurations on a large legacy network, so the significant limitations of the current model of network configuration are fresh on my mind.

Traditionally a lot of network equipment such as switches and routers are configured via a text file, where each line has configuration settings that get applied, with sometimes nested blocks of sub-configurations. For example, from Cisco:

hostname myfirstswitch
logging host
interface Ethernet0
 ip address
 ip access-group MyAccessList in
 duplex auto
 speed auto
 no shutdown

Here we set the host name, then configure the first Ethernet interface with an IP address, an access list (similar to a firewall or iptables), and set the duplex and speed values, and finally turn the interface on (on some Cisco models there’s a default for an interface to be off, so turn it on you have to turn it not-off.)

Traditional methods of configuring the switch are over a serial port or SSH, or possibly by loading configuration commands in as a file via SCP, TFTP and the like. While the exact details of the complications do change based on the method used, a lot of the basic problem remains.

In my particular case one issue is that there may be random old configuration left. References to DNS servers or logging servers that no longer exist.  It’s easy enough to add a server, but unless you know that there happens to an old entry (logging host the new configuration doesn’t remove the old. So now you’re stuck writing rules to look for configuration statements of that particular format that shouldn’t be there. Certainly doable, but it adds a lot of extra complexity.

Another issue is the order of operations. A traditional example is the above access list. It’s typically a set of “permit” statements followed by an implicit (or explicit) “deny” statement.  So it’s easy to either blank an access list that governs access to the switch and lock yourself out in the middle of the configuration, or apply an access list before it’s defined. Another common issue is re-addressing devices; you change the IP and subnet mask on one line, and the default gate way on another. But changing either may stop your ability to communicate until the other is applied. Once more, there are ways around it, but it still means a lot of extra complexity in planning and scripting. 

You can’t just tell the switch what configuration you want it or its components have. You have to figure out what state it is currently in, and then do a lot of conditional logic to determine how to get it to the state you want it to be. There are of course additional projects to try to abstract some of that complexity, but on some level they just add yet another level of proprietary components and a black box. Some other vendors, and even some Cisco models, allow configuration sessions with roll-backs, confirms, and the ability to do more atomic applications, but that’s still short of ideal.

One attempt to fix this state of affairs is YANG and NETCONF, IETF standards for representing the state in XML or JSON and transferring the state via an RPC mechanism. This approach isn’t perfect either, and isn’t well supported by vendors. One issue is that the capabilities and peculiarities of each platform differ so much that it’s difficult to abstract away. At the very least, though, it allows for a proper desired-state configuration, which would be a fantastic step forward.

It’ll be very interesting to see whether vendors will start supporting the IETF standards or other APIs, but it’s hard for me to see that going forward we wouldn’t quickly start adding APIs for configuration instead of the old SSH and line configurations. It’s equally hard for me to see that we’ll quickly get away from this problem, considering that typical life cycle of networking gear is 10+ years in enterprise networks.

Posted by Toivo Voll in Information Technology

128 Technology and Secure Vector Routing

Photo: Johannes Winger-Lang

I ran across an interesting new company today, and decided to walk through some of the technology.

You can catch the video here.

The basic idea, as far as I can tell, is that you replace or augment your existing routers with the company’s x86-based boxes. You’re not replacing the underlying Internet, despite what some of the claims might lead you to think — instead they have a proprietary encapsulation/tunneling technology. It’s a lot like a dynamic multi-point VPN, where your traffic moves from one node in your network to another over encrypted tunnels, except here the system builds “tunnels” based on sessions and flows rather than network nodes. What makes the technology really interesting, though, is that it seeks to combine many functions that you get when you maintain a lot of state and know more about your traffic and flows.

In addition to encrypting traffic from point A to point B, it allows you to do traffic engineering / optimization in the vein of SD-WAN — the presentation doesn’t go into full detail, but it’s easy to think of ways that you could optimize for cost and bandwidth, and if application-aware, send VoIP and media streams over low-latency, expensive links and bulk traffic over higher-latency but cheaper links, for example; or shift traffic patterns, allow for overflow peaking to metered links and so forth.

Simply offering an easy-to-manage multipoint VPN — which is currently a major headache that takes a lot of engineer hours to implement — and SD-WAN — which saves money — is a winner, but they aim higher.

If the system knows flows and applications, it’s an easy jump to add security functions to it — firewalls, possibly even IPS/IDS/DLP. Perhaps traffic shaping and policing as well.

There’s a lot of telemetry and visibility that is possible from a modern system that has flow and application-level visibility at every hop. It’s not that current routers couldn’t do this, but they’re badly hamstrung by lagging legacy management schemes such as SNMP.

Configuration of traffic patterns, routing, IP addressing etc. can be done centrally, in the vein of overlays and SDN.

No need to reconfigure anything on the underlying network. The idea that you don’t want to have to ask carriers for anything is pervasive, and it’s attractive for a reason as anyone who’s ever dealt with carriers can attest.

An x86-hardware agnostic approach might allow for a nice range from affordable to high-performance hardware to support many low-cost branches.

High-touch services on the routers? If Cisco is putting container support in their LAN access switches and routers, this may be the way to go.

Where’s the catch? Well, a lot of these things aren’t exactly new ideas, and the difference between wanting to do something and being able to do so is fundamental. Making firewalls is hard. Coming up with a way to route and prioritize traffic is hard even before you add more complex decision criteria to it. Troubleshooting underlying transport issues and how they present through this vector-routed mesh might be a challenge. A particular detail I’m curious about is whether the scheme requires either a transport MTU of more than 1500 bytes, or if it limits the TCP/UDP payload. It says it’s inband signaling and doesn’t have the complexity of MPLS, but it’s still an encapsulation with effectively another set of headers, unless they have a surefire way to compress every packet enough. How is the reliability, and how does it deal with outages of underlying networks?

With the advent of SD-WAN, NSX, ACI, and the already boringly old MPLS infrastructure the engineering and conceptual framework for something like this might be there, though. It does seem to me that if they can deliver on their promises, this would be the perfect time to offer any distributed businesses a simple, single-vendor solution that replaces dozens of expensive, complex, difficult-to-manage products with one centrally managed, software-defined networking stack.

Posted by Toivo Voll in Information Technology

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures

During a recent flight I finally had a chance to watch Hidden Figures, the movie about the untold story of the black computers who were instrumental in NASA’s manned space flight program. They fought dehumanizing, demoralizing racism and even so managed to make key contributions and keep their pride and hope.

In short, the movie should be seen by everyone, and I’m glad to hear that it’s becoming part of school curricula. It touches on a lot of topics I care about. It shows the beauty and importance of mathematics, and dispenses with the idea that mathematics isn’t for everyone. I am slightly bothered by the genius-worship in the movie, but that’s a minor niggle. It talks about the incredible efforts that went into sending humans into space, and it finally recognizes the important role of people who had been written out of white-washed history.

The portrayal of racism was matter-of-fact which in many ways lessened the immediate emotional impact until you actually thought about what just happened. Not a ton of subtlety either, but some pointed and clever dialogue:

White woman: “You know I don’t have anything against you.”
Black woman: “I know. I know you believe that.”

The protagonists were lionized as perfect; it shouldn’t take that to be respected, and the relatively happy ending also seemed arguable in contrast to real history.

The protagonists were/are heroes, and they broke down barriers. I am immensely glad the movie celebrates this and gives them recognition. Yet I’m hoping nobody thinks that their accomplishments meant that others had the same opportunities shortly thereafter, or that the continuation of the very same fight isn’t happening today.

There has not been a magic turning point between then and now that has made everything better. Yes, things have gotten better, and they’ve gotten better because of the tenacity of people who refuse to sit in the back of the bus, refuse to give up their rights, and those who fight for equality.

I’ve chosen the still from the movie on purpose. This very same scene is still playing out in way too many meetings I have been part of in my own field generations later. The next time you find yourself at an IT trade show, or a training class, or a work meeting, look around and consider how many women of color there are. Then consider how much brilliance and contribution is going unused in a world where they can’t, or won’t, be part of our profession. Then consider what you can do to change that.

Posted by Toivo Voll in Information Technology

Ops, DevOps, and the Big Picture

DevOps is the way to IT nirvana, magically conjuring up the unicorns of agility, reliability, efficiency, engaged employees, and accelerated implementation schedules.

…Except we know the reality. It’s not about the tools or gimmicks – DevOps is a philosophy, and if an organization is built to, or transforms to follow the right principles those goals can be reached. 

I want to address one particular aspect of this philosophy that I have not seen discussed enough – the Big Picture. There are two sides to this.

The Goal

Back to basics! The point of all the DevOps magic is to achieve some goal in a more efficient manner. Unless the developers and operations teams know what this goal is, and how they can contribute to it,  the wrong initiatives and work get prioritized, and the work done is less meaningful in the end. Surprise, there’s nothing dev-opsy about this, it’s all about good, traditional communication and management. The need for clear direction, planning, and execution and communicating it down the organizational structure doesn’t vanish even if the engineers are wizards. Make sure development and operations engineers have a good idea what the organization is trying to do, and let them find ways to contribute. It means better focused work, and more meaningfully engaged employees.


Having a two-way communication between development and ops isn’t really a DevOps thing either; it’s clearly a part of a healthy ITIL, Site Reliability Engineering, Agile, DevOps or pick-your-methodology organization. 

It matters for multiple reasons.

First, if there is a division in labor between the operational tasks and the development-oriented tasks, communication helps foster better cooperation between the respective employees and groups.

Second, it makes for better solutions – having operations weigh in on what kinds of things make life easier and reduce unnecessary work and engineering on the front end of projects can be incredibly helpful. (*cough* Proper application-level HA. *cough*)

Third, it is a sign of a healthy organization and makes the role of an operations engineer more rewarding. If the operations engineers don’t have the time or the opportunity to get involved on the front-end of projects, it either means that they’re overworked, or that they’re getting the mushroom treatment and handed projects they have to magically make work without having been able to influence the design. Both of these are significant red flags.


Like so many parts of the DevOps fever, once you unpack the principles behind it, it turns out that there are some good, common-sense ideas at play. It’s not that DevOps is conceptually that different from the ITIL wheels of continuous improvement, it’s more about figuring out how to actually allow that ideal to be reached without falling into the process morass ITIL brought us. Alternatively, in places where strict controls and processes are unavoidable, there are still great lessons to be learned from DevOps and Agile methodologies. 

Posted by Toivo Voll in DevOps, Information Technology

The Goal and The Phoenix Project


I’m reviewing these two books together, since the Phoenix Project builds largely on The Goal by applying the Theory of Constraints to the IT environment.

The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt is familiar to anyone who has studied management. It tells a fictional story, following a protagonist struggling with production problems at a manufacturing plant. By following the protagonist’s journey in understanding the problem definition, the mechanisms in action, and how to improve the situation the reader gains the same information, is guided through the logic and thought process, and the theory is applied to (fictional) practice. It’s not the most riveting piece of fiction ever written, and Goldratt spends too much time showing just how bad the problem is and the protagonist’s frustration before moving onto the enlightenment steps. That said, it’s certainly a much more pleasant and effective way to convey the concepts Goldratt wants to share than a traditional theory book would be; much like a a textbook it does require the reader to put it down here and there and think through what just happened and was suggested.

The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford follows the same method, but is objectively a much better book. It starts off with a dysfunctional IT organization within a company. Here it shines by painting a picture of archetypal IT staffers and situations with such skill that anyone who ever has worked in IT may be tempted to replace the characters with names from their own organization. The pain-points are also all too familiar. It moves along at a much faster pace while still succeeding in conveying the principles and theory it sets out to communicate.

The Phoenix Project in particular should be required reading for anyone in IT operations or development to get a better idea of organizations as a whole, especially management. Regardless, helping the reader understand how to be more efficient, and how to spot inefficiencies around them, it is helpful no matter the level of an employee. It additionally serves as a great source of references for more reading, such as Personal Kanban, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and The Goal to name a few.

The Phoenix Project I highly recommend; if you want to get into more nitty-gritty about the Theory of Constraints in still a very accessible work, The Goal is a good follow-up.



Posted by Toivo Voll in Book Review, Information Technology

College of Wizardry 11

Czocha castle

Last year I attended New World Magischola, a weekend-long wizard school live-action roleplay event (larp) where I played a student attending wizard university. Think Brakebills or where Harry Potter would have gone after graduating Hogwarts. I do not consider myself a larper, and I haven’t ever done anything like it – but then again, neither had most of the other attendees. The weekend was amazing fun and I made a lot of great friends. In short, imagine these events as really intense murder mysteries – you pretend to be a character, and go through various events reacting accordingly.

New World Magischola was inspired by the Czocha College of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a similar event held for several years now in a medieval castle (Zamek Czocha) in Poland. The chance was there, and I decided that I can’t pass up the opportunity to pretend to be a wizard in a magical castle, and so I attended the 11th iteration of the event.

College of Wizardry, or CoW for short, is often called a Nordic larp (no mechanical rules, high emotional content, high immersion), or a blockbuster larp (expensive tickets, high production values, great settings). This is interactive entertainment or theater where the participants create the plots and drama. You can be given the outline of a character and some character goals, or you can make your own. All the fellow students and even the professors are other players. There is no provided plot beyond the setting; the first two days of a new semester, ending in a formal dance. There are meals, there is a class schedule, and first years get sorted into houses. Everything else; the interactions, the tension, drama, excitement and love comes from the participants. The content of the classes is made up by the players of professors, and the particulars on sorting first years into houses is made up by the players playing prefects. This is fairly different from many other larps.

You assume the persona of a character Thursday night, and then act as them until Saturday night; in my case even my accommodations were theoretically in-character, so we were expected to act as the student character in our dorms (in reality when you’re dealing with luggage and toiletries and charging your cell phone the illusion isn’t entirely sustainable.)

I had a concept in mind – similar to the manga Inu-Yasha, except in this case I am a student with kitsune blood who gets accidentally bound to another student as a familiar. I still requested to be cast a character, with the idea that if I like parts of it I can utilize them, and if not I can just write my own. As these things tend to go, when I got the character draft and spoke with other players about what I wanted to do, things quickly changed and I ended up making my student character, Loki, a changeling pooka instead. I took some of the background from the given draft, and filled it out with the fae angle and various other details.

Here is the account of who I was, and what happened.

Loki von Essen (center) paying attention in Beastology class.

The Character: Loki von Essen

Loki was born in Berlin to Rudolf Alwin von Essen, a renowned hexblood healer specializing in werewolf specific issues such as silver sensitivity, and Lúthien von Essen (nee Aubry), a fae from the Summer Court. Loki is their only child. By all accounts his parents have a strong, loving marriage, as unlikely as that seems between a fae and a human. Still, Loki suspects that his mother is using him as a pawn in some long game of hers. As good of a mother as she tries to be, she is still fae and alien, and the lack of a human mother’s love has left an imprint on Loki; his father is the source of most of the warmth, but as he is often busy and absent-minded, there is a limit to the love he could provide.

The von Essen family sided with werewolves during the Lander werewolf Rebellion; they view the affair as a great tragedy all around. They helped run a safehouse where injured and non-combatant werewolves could hide and be taken care of. The Guardians found the location, and carnage ensued; Loki watched his friends and strangers get ripped apart and burned by silver and Guardian magic, and he watched his friends tear Guardians apart. When it all settled, the von Essen family had lost any chance of remaining in their Conflux and most of their wealth, exiled to their summer house in Ahlbeck on Usedom Island. Any surviving friends that Loki had from his Berlin days were either in hiding or on the run. One of the survivors from this time shared a story of Alexie Cortez and Jaxon Thrace, although Loki realized the significance of this only much later.

Not long after moving to Ahlbeck, Loki began to have visions. At times without any obvious trigger, but mostly when he touched someone; flashes of the person’s future or past. This “gift” together with the nightmares of the rebellion and his identity and self-esteem issues made him a social outcast when he attended the Balt Meddin academy.

The other significant effect of his fae blood did not help either: Loki has the ability and outright need to shapeshift into a fox; being a pooka changeling. He soon realized that fae were considered by many to be just another kind of demon, and in any event a dangerous extradimensional creature best banished, and so attempted to keep his nature a secret.

Loki’s fae blood gives him sensitivity to iron, in particular cold iron, and most other things that ward off fae.

Light & Dark

This is verbatim material from the character I was given, and I liked it so kept most of it:

Light Side:You are a good and forthcoming person, who wants the best for all. Some call it naive, others call it an intuitive personality trait. You can’t help carefully prompting people to react in the right way in order to avoid accidents or get good grades. “Do not wear yellow today”, “write home”, “take an umbrella”, “pack extra ink” – those lines seem quite innocent, so you’re hoping that there won’t be any questions asked. After all, if they listen to you, nothing bad will happen and therefore there will be no need to ask… right?
Dark Side:You are afraid. Deep inside, you fear the judgement and rejection of people around you. You hate it when people don’t listen to you or take you seriously. Sometimes it drives you to behave erratically – sometimes it even drives you to hurt the people close to you. Secrets are lies and lies are hurtful. You are maybe not be as good at hiding it all as you think you are. You need to let these secrets out – but how? You can’t stop worrying that, if people find out, you will be forever seen as a lunatic or a freak.

Balt Meddin Academy

Once ready to enter the educational system, Loki was selected to attend the Balt Meddin academy. At Balt Meddin Loki turned out to have a natural ability with plants due to his fae blood, but he chose to not apply himself to botany or herbology. He was an outsider who didn’t fit in and had few friends. He dated Alexis Rafalko until a fateful night where she looked through his memories, and Jadwiga Marszelek until she saw evidence of his shapeshifting and accused him of being a werewolf. Loki publicly bit her in response, and that was the end of any hope of having a sane social life at the school.

He did befriend Jade Rantzau, having had a fateful prophecy relating to her brother Alex, and Deidra Witek, who recognized the fae magic in him, and was dealing with some unusual magic issues herself. He found Wolfram Neumann a good lab partner, had a very awkward connection with Kameela Hussain having accidentally seen her big secret and occasionally using it as blackmail. Balo Ravenn’s father worked with Loki’s father, and they shared research interests as well. He had also seen glimpses of Georgina Baldini’s secrets.

Loki developed an attitude problem, dealing with his fears and insecurities by easily going to the offense – but those who managed to look deeper could tell that under the suspicious, mercenary devil-may-care shell he was fundamentally a pretty decent sort and a competent young healer.

During the end of the Balt Meddin semester before getting into Czocha, Loki decided he no longer wanted to be the bullied outcast kid, and he needed powerful allies. He went back to Rafalko, and met with her and Agatha Winding to enter into their secret society. He made a blood pact with Agatha, preventing him from betraying her or her family.

Planned Plot Ideas


Fae Secret Exposed

Having his fae identity revealed in some public manner that causes trouble. Getting caught in a ritual or ward, or having someone out him. Professor Felicity Wraithwood would flip out, as she was very anti-fae. Some other professors were supposed to drop hints about how troublesome the fae are and how to find them.

Shortly before the game, after she was cast, the player of Arachne Hemlock, the Janitor and younger sister to headmistress Edwina Hemlock and Guardian, Conflux Studies professor Ursula Hemlock, revealed how her plot and background could work for Loki. She had been kept as a servant in Faerie for the past seven years before escaping, and we agreed that the fae that kept her was none other than Loki’s mother, and she was trying to use him to get into the castle to get Arachne back. A particular idea was that Agatha Winding and/or Alexis Rafalko would threaten Loki during lunch, and he’d use his blood right to command Arachne to help him, thereby exposing both Arachne’s story and his own for other players to explore.

Being Bitten by a Vampire or Werewolf

Being bitten by a vampire, and causing the vampire to get drunk/high from his fae blood. Alternatively, being immune to lycanthropy and having the werewolf clearly tell he’s not human from the taste of his blood.

Iron Covenant / Trouble with Winding and Rafalko

Loki is driven by a thirst of knowledge and a desire to surpass his father in skill and fame; that requires knowledge, and if rules are in the way of acquiring this knowledge, it’s OK to ignore the rules. I expected Loki to be dragged along things like demon summonings, or sacrificing fellow students, or other such endeavors. I intended for Loki to get into trouble, but also out of it before it was too late, so he would end the game on a positive note.

Bedding Baz

This plot is one of those things the character tells me about. Loki experienced lust on first sight when he learned about Bastian “Baz” Lihs, the prefect of house Durentius, bad-ass werewolf. The dynamics of attraction are complicated, and there’s a core of something more serious, but since Loki was challenged to be bold and the double-entendres write themselves when a house has a rooster as its heraldic animal… For emotional safety, it had been agreed with Baz’s player that either Loki would be successful, or they’d end up friends. There was a lot of very lewd and public play around this theme in online roleplaying prior to the event.

Also arranged in the pre-game online roleplay was that one of Baz’s housemates, Maddy Owen, would help Loki chase the prefect, but only at the price of calling her “senpai” for the weekend. Unbeknownst to Maddy the way this agreement was worded actually made it a fae pact with Loki.

I’m still not entirely sure of the reasons Loki was so attracted to Baz, but I suspect it partially had to do with the way both of the characters were “broken” and how he thought he might be able to help him.

Out-of-Game Goals

To be more angsty and dark and morally grey than my previous New World Magischola character Mietto, but make sure I end the game on a decent note and if he goes down the wrong path that there’s some redemption.

I wanted to play Loki as somewhat eerie and disturbing, and possibly somewhat stand-offish, quick to take offense to perceived slights.

College of Wizardry 11 – What Happened

This section is a heavily abridged version of the game from Loki’s perspective.



Loki arrives at Czocha, gets his robe, and is both nervous and excited. There are new people, new professors, the promise of learning new things, powerful allies and protectors, and some old acquaintances.

Loki finds the Durentius table and sits across from Baz, trying to catch his eye; Baz tries his best to ignore him. Maddy-senpai pokes Loki and reminds him of the agreed upon first thing he needs to do. Loki begins to apologize and fix his feud with Jadwiga. Overall dinner is a good time, and it’s exciting to see all the new fellow students around. Later Loki is told in no uncertain terms that he’s expected to sit at the Faust table instead, and obeys; he misses the camaraderie from the other house tables. He’s beginning to wonder if his deal with Agatha and Falko was all that smart after all.


Loki joins the tour of the castle given by the Janitor, Arachne Hemlock. He begins to get a nagging suspicion that he somehow knows her from somewhere. The tour gets quickly hijacked by Jonathan the Friendly Ghost and some house goblin, and… it ends up costing everyone a fair bit of points, since the students were lead right into the teacher’s lounge bathroom through the secret passages. Needless to say, the students get caught.

Loki joins the prefect-led second tour of the castle. Riley Krol is leading Loki’s half of the tour, and during the dungeon part straps Dee to the torture table, and… is there something between the two?

Tavern and Curfew

After the tours Loki goes to the tavern in an attempt to socialize and he tries a bottle of the famed honey beer. Just before curfew, he manages to get hall pass from Prof. Morgan.
Departing the tavern, Loki hears screaming from the forest and goes investigate. He finds the aftermath of the Sewing Club (unofficial and illegal fight club) meeting. The club had attempted to summon some creatures for fighting practice, but instead what appeared was a Fae lord, a werewolf and a minotaur. In the ensuing hubbub Riley is injured, but since Loki knows she’s a werewolf, he gives her a special potion. (Unbeknownst to Loki Riley is lying about being a werewolf.)

Professor Felicity Wraithwood shows up and is unhappy, but ends up awarding points for bravery and healing and generally being competent about the situation.

Loki goes to bed.



Loki’s been told to quit it with hanging out with Durentius, so he’s obediently sitting at the Faust table. Attendance is pretty sparse, and he doesn’t really talk much.

Alchemy Class

The class is somewhat basic for Loki, with mixing potions to prevent mundanes from sharing secrets they may have overseen, and each student has to pick a favorite tool, and he has a chance to meet some other students.

Beastology class; Professor Finn and a friendly minotaur

Beastology Class

This class was interesting, because it involves remotely monitoring vital signs of a creature, and basic first aid so things entirely up Loki’s alley. Students bandage each other and some of Loki’s tools such as his scissors come in handy. A minotaur is brought into class for further practical exercises and the class learns how to interact with a minotaur and calm one down. Baz is also present to observe despite this being a junior class, but nobody seems to know what latin name the spells require to analyze his vital signs; it turns out he doesn’t really know what kind of werewolf he is. Loki manages to play it cool and not focus on him, but makes a mental note to find out more. Loki likes professor Emerald Finn and asks her for more information about werewolves for the next class.

Magical Defense class

Magical Defense Class

Taught by prefect Alexa “Lexi” Cortez ecause the actual professor, Jaxon Thrace is missing. The exercise is to have two pairs face each other; the attacker of one of the pairs picks a target in random, and then the pair member that isn’t being attacked has to defend their partner, or experience the effects of the spell. It’s pretty tough for juniors, and Loki breaks off from his group for a while when a student is injured. Professor Alice Morgan supervises the class. Loki thinks Lexi in charge is fetching. Loki’s partner is Jolene Rosario. Homework is to come up with a set of four spells, and Loki plans to get together with Jolene for it later.


Loki sits with Faust. Not much happens.

Invocation Class

Basics about extradimensional creatures, some discussion of ethics. Homework: find wards around school and figure out what they do.

Ritual Magic Class

I skipped this, but don’t recall why. Didn’t find the location?

Herbology Class

Learning about the theory of signatures, and use of plants for visions. Loki gets to listen to professor Felicity Wraithwood talk about how bad Fae are. After class, professor Wraithwood confronts him about being fae. She’s disappointed in him for not having told her before joining a research trip during the semester break. Loki expected her to be a lot more prejudiced and make his life hard, but there’s no indication of such from her. Instead, he’s reminded to come to the 23:30 special class to learn more about himself.

Afternoon Break

Loki gets a hall pass from professor Rowan Ripley, as well as some vampire blood, as she is one. He’s really surprised at how nice the crazy counselor is, and continues to be a bit suspicious about her not asking for favors or payment.

Students in Knight’s Hall

Sorting Interviews

Loki is called in front of a panel of prefects to answer questions to determine which house he’ll go to. All the questions but two are about how much Loki wants to get into Baz’s pants; Loki asks Baz to the ball and is rejected; Loki asks if Baz’s date minds that they leave the ball together, and it turns out there is more between Jade Rantzau and Baz than they had realized. Loki has been given plenty of tokens to make sure he ends in Faust, and he also comes with a fair number of points. Houses Libussa and Molin also make a claim.

Dinner and Sorting Results

Sorting results are announced and to nobody’s surprise Loki ends in Faust. He has made peace with being in that house, though is a bit nervous about just how power-hungry the culture will be. He is given the blue Faust house tie, and is initiated to Czocha through a ritual administered by the faculty. Unbeknownst to Loki this now means that Czocha is now his home, and hence his fae mother can enter without being nearly as bothered by the wards intended to keep out uninvited visitors as she otherwise would be.

Faust initiation, first years about to be blindfolded

Faust Initiation

Masked house members take the juniors to the lower courtyard archway. The juniors are blindfolded, and then each is chosen by a sophomore mentor, and lead to the basement. All the juniors have to share a secret, somewhat anonymous since they’re still blindfolded. Loki admits that he is a pawn to his mother’s machinations. Then the blindfold is removed, and they have to choose which junior they would have die if they had to choose; Loki cheats and chooses himself. He feels guilty for not doing the exercise, but can’t bring himself to, even hypothetically, choose anyone else. Afterwards he’s a little bothered by not having had the clarity of mind to see who pointed at him. He also learns who his mentor is, Drusilla Allegro. Loki doesn’t really know her well, but is somewhat intimidated by her intensity and the reputation as a rich hexist student. After the ritual the Faustians move back to the common room, and Loki learns more about the house, that it is co-ruled by the two prefects and three council members (including Agatha and Rafalko). This essentially means that Agatha’s cabal is in control of house Faust. A house tattoo is applied.

Evening Free Time

Loki runs into Baz in the hallway, and manages to have a brief serious talk with him and begins to build better rapport.

Basement Beer Brigade Meeting

Loki rushes to the Basement Beer Brigade meeting in the tower. Thanks to it being dark, I can actually climb there. The tower is dark, so climbing in the light of my wand means I never see the heights; I’m in a little bubble of light. The tower is full of students looking for hidden wards and sigils, but they come up short and vacate, and then the rest of the beer brigade crew arrives. The story of Arachne Hemlock is revealed. Loki’s suspicion is confirmed, leaving him in a very awkward mood knowing that Arachne is his mother’s escaped “servant.” Loki knows that what her mother did is wrong and cruel by human standards, and wonders what his guilt and culpability in the matter are, having known about it and done nothing to confront his mother.

Werewolf student

Tending to a Werewolf Bite

Loki leaves the BBB meeting early to get to the Herbology extracurricular class. Before getting to the bottom of the stairs, he’s grabbed to the Faust common room to deal with a student who has suffered a werewolf bite. Loki does what he can, but it’s a virtual certainty that the lycanthropy has taken and the student will turn; it’s just a matter of trying to support the process and make sure it’s a good change and providing the student with peer support.

Demon Summoning

Ladies Agatha Winding and Alexis Rafalko order Loki to follow them to the dungeon and to ignore his herbology class. Baz, Jadwiga, Artemis Dupont and professor Nathaniel MacKenzie are also present. Loki is really uneasy about standing up professor Wraithwood, but isn’t willing to disobey Agatha.

Once in the basement, Agatha summons demons so people can bargain with them. Loki hides in a corner whimpering in terror because he knows he’s among the tastiest treats the demons know. Rafalko is ecstatic with his terror.

The summoning is busted. People try to escape, but most get caught; Ursula Hemlock and worse, Felicity Wraithwood are Very Disappointed and promise repercussions the next morning.

I had suspected something like the summoning would happen, but getting caught was a complete surprise. Shell-shocked, in-and-out-of-game, I go to bed. I then message the player or Arachne out-of-game, realize our Saturday plan is shot, get back up and spend until late trying to coordinate and fix things with her.

On the way back to bed I get intercepted by Agatha and Falko – Agatha feeds on Loki’s fae blood, Falko on his terror, and she takes Loki’s memories of what happened during the demon summoning so he cannot testify during his upcoming interrogation. This was a fantastically intense scene, and I enjoyed it a lot.



People talk about things that happened the previous night with the werewolf bitten student, and Loki is clueless, confusing the others that were part of the event. Loki is perfectly happy because he has no recollection of what happened, until there’s an announcement that he’s to show up for an interview. He’s surprised and unsettled. When he shows up, he is told to go to class instead and that he would be fetched later.

Professor West, Alchemy

Alchemy Class

Loki is on pins and needles and worries about what’s going on, but goes to class. Not long after the start of class  Loki is dragged out by professors Jaxon Thrace and Markus Scholtz and relieved of his wands.


Ursula Hemlock, Markus Scholtz and Jaxon Thrace begin to interrogate the terrified Loki. He doesn’t have any idea what the commotion is about, and by now it’s obvious that someone has messed with his memories – his talks with Baz and other important stuff is gone too. He’s terrified, and has no idea what to do. He only remembers Alexis Rafalko’s eyes. The interrogation goes further, and triggers his blood bond, causing him to writhe in agony; Ursula seems not bothered at all. To escape the torture, he calls on his mother’s bond and commands Arachne Hemlock to protect him. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. The interrogation stops, and he’s dismissed so the Hemlocks can deal with the revelation about Arachne.

Alchemy Class Continued

Unsettled and very frightened, Loki goes back to class, which ends almost not soon thereafter.

Beastology Class

The class is interesting, and there’s talk about dragons and some unknown creatures. Loki thinks the two unknown creatures probably are fae. Students can sign up for times to tend to animals. Loki has trouble paying attention because he’s distracted by the trouble he’s in; nobody really asks him about it.

Physical Education

Loki and a number of other students accidentally end up in sword class instead of magical defense, due to miscommunication about where it was. Loki discovers he’s rubbish with swords. A goblin watches the class, and for a brief moment is armed; this doesn’t end well, as he’s rather peeved about something.


Loki gets package from secret admirer. Overall it’s still very awkward. He asks Maddy to go to the ball, and in the end they agree to have a date in detention instead.

Blood Test

Professor Rowan Ripley and Lexi ask him to do a blood test to find whether they’re related, using the blood Rowan already gave him. Yes, they are.

Teaching a Fae about Magic

Professor Felicity Wraithwood takes Loki to an alcove in front of the dungeon, and teaches him to control his fae magic so he can try to break away from Agatha. This was also the turning point of Loki’s redemption arc. He verbalized the regret of his earlier indiscriminate thirst for knowledge, and his understanding of the humanity and compassion that was driving him and the need to nurture them instead of sacrificing them in the search of knowledge for any price. There is knowledge that is not worth having, because the price is the inability to use the knowledge for what one wanted it in the first place.

Invocation Class

Loki rushes to his class. Thankfully it’s in the forest; Loki finds the setting calming and it’s fun to be there with permission. Professor Sholtz has arranged for the class to meet some dryads and talk with them about the relationship of nature and Czocha and other issues. It’s very nice, although a rain makes things chilly and cuts the conversation short. When everyone else is out of earshot, Loki apologizes to the Dryads for the mess his mother’s been causing with her attempts to force into the castle. The professor doesn’t seem to treat Loki any differently, despite having dragged him out of class earlier.

Something Happens

Something happened at this point to make me significantly late to the next class, but I can’t recall what it was.

Ritual Magic Class

Loki arrives late to ritual magic. There’s a faun with lost memories. Participate in ritual to bring them back, helpfully knowing fae magic. There’s bleed, and Loki’s scrambled memories return, except for the actually removed ones. He’s pissed, but immensely grateful to remember his talk with Baz again.

Herbology Class

The herbology class was a combined special class. Everyone was called into the library, and then an injured minotaur appeared through the secret passage. Students had to recall their lessons from herbology and beastology to calm it down, diagnose and treat the wound. Loki ended up tending to it up close while other students prepared healing rituals and attended to other wounds. Towards the end Loki took the minotaur’s hand, and in agony it crushed his. Luckily he had the skills and ability to heal himself after the class.

Bargain for Arachne’s Freedom

Loki’s mother is summoned, the fae lord appears as well. Professor Sholtz, one of his students, Arachne and Edwina bargain for Arachne’s freedom. Loki’s order to Arachne is cancelled, and as payment for that service Arachne only needs to return for one day to serve Lúthien. Loki is very awkward, and knows his mother isn’t happy with him, but she departs before he has a chance to talk to her.

Faust House Photo

Photos are taken in the auditorium. Faust house members are told to attend a meeting in the Faust common room after dinner.

Dinner and Sentencing

Loki is unsettled at dinner. Many of his friends have reconnected, made up, broken up and everything seems to be in flux. People are talking about the ball, and he’s still trying to come to grips with Baz and Jade being an item, and Jade having found his way to his heart.

At the end of dinner an announcement is made. Agatha is expelled, the rest of the group is under Restriction and is only allowed wands and magic under supervision during classes. Loki’s shocked, but he was really fearing expulsion or being thrown the Pits, so he’s very relieved. Loki still doesn’t know what actually happened.

Rafalko is very upset about Agatha’s expulsion and tries to get Loki to understand that she’s doing things for his own good.

Dahlia Ferro asks Loki for help with her friend Willomeina Jones, Willow for short, who is missing and she suspects she might be in Faerie, but there’s not much Loki can do other than offer to help with location spells.

Faust House Meeting

Riley has arranged to stage a coup. Unhappy with the way the demon summoning cost the house points and its shot at the house cup and the infamy it brought the house he’s arranged for a vote. The council is dissolved, and for all purposes Agatha is expelled. This is very tense; Loki has sworn loyalty to Rafalko and Agatha, but it’s obvious by now that it was a mistake. Riley, the werewolf prefect, and a number of other Faustians, including professor Wraithwood, the house monitor, are clearly united against Agatha and have runes to protect them against demonic possession and control; the rest of the house might not have ethical qualms with the dark ladies, but goes along with the coup. Loki is put on the spot and asked to vote against Agatha; he physically can’t, but even his attempt is counted. Despite everything, that moment of betrayal shames him deeply.

Confession Time

Loki is trying to be more responsible and address past misdeeds. Loki confesses to Maddy that he’s half-fae and had tricked her into a fae pact with him. He dissolves the pact and apologizes. Maddy says she wasn’t OK with being tricked and gets serious for a moment.

Welcome Ball

Detention is cancelled, so Loki takes Maddy to the party instead and has a dance with her. He plans to claim his promised dance with Baz, and overall socialize and make sure he’s on good terms with people. Partly this is driven by my out-of-game desire to tie up loose ends and spend at least a little more time with people I felt I had not see much of.

Willow being tended to by a goblin, Riley Krol and other students.

Saving Willow

Instead, Loki is whisked away to help save Willow, who has returned, but is slowly turning into a full-blooded fae. Loki uses a black feather and fae magic to give Jonathan the ghost a corporeal form so Willow can dance with him. The fae lord also hangs around, and eventually a deal is struck with him to allow Willow to retain her humanity. All the participants in this deal, including Baz, Ursula Hemlock, Lexi and Loki lose a year of their lives. Loki comments that Baz is now a silver fox. It’s later revealed that Ursula had 15 months to live, so will now never see her next school year.

Back at the Ball

To his surprise, Agatha spontaneously releases Loki from his blood bond before leaving Czocha. Rafalko also attempts to make up and explains that she had good motives for all she did. Loki is convinced that she truly believes it, as horrifically twisted as her world view is.

I line up for photos with Baz. The Faust prefect Riley approaches Loki and offers to support him in switching houses because she knows he was coerced into Faust. Everyone’s commanded into Knight’s Hall for announcements.

Losing speeches are delivered, and the larp ends and becomes an afterparty.

Line up for photos again, and actually get photos with Baz.

Things that happened at some point

After feeling adrift with Baz clearly unattainable, Loki and Maddy talk about vanilla ice cream and licking bowls clean of delicious desserts, and the need to not always eat the same dessert. Loki tries to tell Maddy how much she appreciates her having been there for her and a good friend.

Random observations

Loki’s masochism and submissive nature, and attraction to the likes of Falko and Agatha are probably due to his mother (and the PTSD from seeing his friends killed and killing in front of him as a teen during the Lander werewolf rebellion.)

Czocha castle

What Actually Happened with Plots

Iron Covenant / Trouble with Winding and Rafalko

This worked out great, though I had a bit of anxiety over it, and I didn’t get to make it as fun for the villains as everyone had hoped. The main problem was that I had very little time or interaction with Agatha and Rafalko, and a lack of communication on what and when people wanted to do.

In the end Loki ended up with a proper redemption arc that was nice and neat and better than anything I had planned, so this really did work out in the end.

Bastian “Baz” Lihs

Bedding Baz

This was a ton of fun for everyone leading up to the game  and during the game. Obviously not getting the guy was a bit of a downer, and there were some details afterwards that warranted some clarifying with other players after the game, but overall this worked out well. A lot less actual play than I had hoped, though, because again there were very few occasions where Loki actually ran into Baz. The lesson that one should approach any kind of romantic plots with caution and at least in my case with pre-planning was definitely reinforced.

Edwina, Ursula and Arachne Hemlock dining together.

Edwina, Ursula and Arachne Hemlock dining together.

Fae Secret Exposed

This ended up not really happening. I left the details open, and then Yoru suggested a fantastic public scene at lunch Saturday that would also do exposition for Arachne’s plot… but the demon summoning and getting into trouble forced that scene to happen earlier in private at the teacher’s lounge instead. In the end he was never publicly outed, and I think there wouldn’t have been a ton of fallout even if he had. There was also another student, Willow, who went fae Saturday afternoon/evening, and my plot might have detracted from hers. Similarly, summoning Loki’s mother to deal with Arachne’s deal ended up being more sparsely attended as planned due to photo schedule overlap. There was some confusion who was supposed to be active in that scene as well. No magic was ever cast that affected him, nobody noticed or cared about him avoiding all the iron door handles, and I also never got a vampire to bite him.

Professor Wraithwood found out from the get go, as some of the other staff players hadn’t understood that his fae nature wasn’t in-game knowledge. Instead of leading the anti-fae charge, she became Loki’s savior. While it didn’t go to plan, the entire relationship and arc with Wraithwood was better than anything planned.

Saving Willow

This was completely unexpected. I had heard there was another fae student during the game, but didn’t actually find her until Saturday night when I was asked to come save her. I wish I had a chance to learn her story in more detail, but it was fantastic fun to help with it, and the player did an absolutely amazing job portraying at a fae creature.

Loki’s Your Guy!

Somehow Loki ended becoming the go-to healer for werewolves and fae! Not entirely sure how that happened, but I’d love to repeat it. He also managed to gain the trust of the werewolves, they had been fairly hesitant and stand-offish during pre-game interactions. Both Loki and I were very happy about this.

Friendship with Maddy

Getting along with Maddy was not unexpected, but that she ended up becoming perhaps his closest friend was not planned. Maddy was a fun character that made my play better, and psychologically a great help for Loki.

Playing with Relations

I had set up various relationships pre-game, and ended up playing with very few of them. I definitely bit off more than I could chew there. In particular, repairing my relationship with Jadwiga and helping her get out of trouble with Agatha and Rafalko, being a wing-man for Deidra Witek, tormenting Kameela Hussain, talking research with Georgina Baldini, doing homework with Jolene Rosario to mention just a few. Some players did mention that even the little hallway encounters added to their game, though. All the planned shenanigans with Wolfram Neumann never happened due to lack of time.

Loki somehow became to go-to guy for healing, even though he was just a first year

Loki the Weird Jerk

I was unable to really play Loki as morally grey, standoffish or easily offended. Instead he became somewhat of a nice guy and people seemed to like him. I’m OK with this; I don’t think it would’ve added a lot, and it certainly is better to play someone you want to play than force things.

A Few Words on Costuming and Props

I am anything but confident about my costuming ability. Compared to people like Eline who change their facial structure with contouring, work magic with wigs and contacts and wardrobe, I feel like I’m a pudgy middle aged guy with hair that sticks up one way and have no clue how to change that.

I envisioned Loki as a goth/metalhead kind of person. Lots of black, straps and zippers and chains and such. Obviously I headed to Hot Topic, only to discover they didn’t carry any of that stuff anymore. I tried to make do with what I had in my closet. I had ordered some bracelets and belt chains off Amazon, and combined those with a black dress shirt and old black combat boots. I also got a Howey-style lab coat (an actual lab coat, instead of the much more impressive and more expensive cosplay mad scientist version), and goggles, with the hope I could use them in a class setting, or when doing significant healing. Finally, by someone’s suggestion, I had bought a cheap stethoscope, trauma shears, and novelty pens that look like syringes with variously colored liquids (I took out the pen parts and glued the rest together).

A few days before my trip I stopped by Burlington Coat factory to see if I can find a cheap jacket that would fit Loki – and I did, a nice black leather one. I also ended up finding a few cheap vests, including a blue one, which I picked up with the hope Loki would end up in Faust, and a pair of fashionable(?) stretchy distressed jeans with a ton of zippers and pockets – the exact kind of thing I had wanted from Hot Topic, but now at outlet prices. Score.

In total I felt like my costume was very hodgepodge but at least better than everyday wear. I was pretty floored when someone approached me after the game praising my costuming. I suppose it wasn’t as half-baked as I felt, but this is one facet of the hobby in which I certainly intend to improve.

To carry all that gear I really wanted an excuse to buy and wear a leg bag, but I wasn’t able to convince myself that any of the ones I could get online would be big enough to fit the potion case. Instead I got a sling bag — the sling part ended up not working well at all, so I just ended up carrying the bag around.

The big prop I had worked on was my potions case; a $.99 wood box from Michael’s, on which I then ended up spending a good $30 of stain and sanding and sealant and decorative corners and whatnot; inside I built a little wooden grid to hold small vials which I had left over from my Magischola character, added an Adafruit Trinket Arduino-clone, some Neopixel strips, a contact switch and a 16850 lithium-ion battery holder. The idea was that when the box opens it lights up revealing a stasis field, and then energizes the potions. Unfortunately something ended up draining the battery much faster than expected, so it stopped working before Saturday, and I hadn’t brought a charger. Some people thought it was cool, I thought it was cool, but overall it didn’t seem to get much attention or add that much to the game, and considering the amount of time spent on the thing, let alone money, it wasn’t worth it. Getting experience in building it, on the other hand, was.

Other items were a wand holster rig and name tag holder I commissioned from Nerdy Niceness, one wand (with a UV) light I built myself, and my main wand (white light) the finishing of which I commissioned from Silver Wing Creations. I got fancy with the cores and electronics, but actually making them look like wands, let alone nice, is still something I haven’t figured out at all. I’ll blog about those and the potion case more in the future.  I also brought random odds and ends, including silvery cake decorating powder to make glistening magical potions and drinks, but there ended up never being time or an opportunity to use it either.

In Summary

These kinds of “blockbuster” larps, or “Nordic” larps aren’t for everyone. They assume a certain level of familiarity with typical wizard school tropes and modern fantasy, and a good dose of willingness to play make-believe. That said, both New World Magischola and College of Wizardry had a lot of first time larpers, and even more people who have never played in a game like this before, and the large majority loved it. It’s hard to not find this kind of thing addictive, and it can be hard to let go of it after the event ends. After all, you just spent a weekend being someone cool, having power over your fate, the ability to take risks without real fear of death or permanent injury, being young and exploring a world of magic and wonder. Coming back to the everyday can be pretty hard. Partly this also explains why so many of the players, who didn’t know each other before, bond and become friends.

If you think you’d like something like this, and there’s any way you can swing the time and money – do it. This kind of event is as far from a local college larp as a corvette is from a bicycle. It’s different, it’s all about emotions and relationships, but it’s unlike anything else you can do, and there’s no way I can begin to convey just how amazing of an experience it can be.

I spent a weekend in a medieval castle being a half-fae wizard, summoning demons, climbing dark towers in the night, being dragged in front of a Guardians, sneaking through secret passages, saving the lives of injured fellow students. This was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Other Bloggers

A few other players have blogged about their experiences as well.
Susanna Kelly / Wandering Chocobo
Laura Lawson / Completing my Bucket List
Cheyenne Rain / Larp House
Jules / Jules Ingame
Photos are courtesy of Defy Gravity Photography / Dziobak Larp Studios and Eline Demeyer.

Czocha castle in Poland. College of Wizardry 11.

Posted by Toivo Voll in College of Wizardry, LARP, Poland
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