der Klang von Zuckerwatte

Entering the Vast World of LARP

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

“I cried for three days straight. It was the most wicked time of my life!” is one of the experience reports we are told during the introduction workshops.

In the first moment this feels daunting and makes me queasy. The lovely Jessi and I bought our tickets for this event in summer and when 2017 came and the time to pack our bags approached a bit of a panic started to rise more and more to reach its peak…well…about now. A few challenging months lay behind the both of us and if we are completely honest we almost chickened out the closer the departure came and we asked ourselves if it wouldn’t be just wonderful to just stay at home and hide from the world more than once. Spending half a week with 150 to 200 strangers to play College of Wizardry sounded like a splendid idea in August. But now? Three days crying without pause can’t be good. And yet…

And yet.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

After driving for seven hours we are already here after all, in the grandiose room of the almost thousand year old castle Zamek Kliczków in Poland, about 30 km from the German border. The impressive, old furniture is made of dark, by now used, wood, the floor is made of stone, the panelled walls are high and decorated with old oil paintings (I spot Händel here…you can indeed learn from stamp motives as it seems), and the chimney is a monster of green enamelled clay that reaches through the wall and into the next room. The whole castle is filled with winding corridors, some rooms are only accessible through others, some doors are tiny, others gargantuan and draped with heavy curtains to keep in the warmth, and a few narrow stone staircases seem to lead into nowhere. Outside the winter is biting cold, but in here it is cosy and toasty.

In everyday life this castle is a four-star-hotel, but the official guests have left this morning and the wizards will not only have the whole compound for themselves, but already have started to turn it into a magical place. In the basement are a tavern, an alchemy laboratory, and a rune cellar. One of the corridors with a window front has been equipped with spell book shelves, plants, and artefacts and already looks like the Herbarium it’s supposed to be. A few steps away from the castle there’s the entrance to the Dark Forest which the first years are forbidden to enter and whilst in the floor above us the five common rooms of the Houses are guarded by the magical point counting machine, the big dining hall is already making a great visual impact with the decorated tables and its banners with the emblems in the back.

Yes, indeed. The whole place truly reminds you of the famous school of witchcraft and wizardry in Scotland that we’ve come to love in our fantasy books. There even is a cat of the castle and we already got lost on our way to the workshops (and it shouldn’t be the last time).

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Now then, surrounded by about thirty fellow-players who all are listening intently, I’m sitting in the “Molin hall” of the “N.I.M.B.U.S. College” and hear what Justine, Stefan, and Samuel are telling us what will await us during the next few day. Rules are being passed on. As is a general introduction to LARP for newbies like me. A more thorough introduction into the CoW itself (College of Wizardry) and the small hand full of rules, alongside a more generous amount of guidelines and safety instructions.

“During LARP you will be faced with moments that are emotionally afflicting for you and that you might even be unable to explain. That’s completely normal and nothing to be scared or even ashamed of. We’ve got a room with a snuggle corner, blanket, stuffed toys, tissues, and a box with meds from aspirin to condoms and even the pill afterwards. Take use of it! We ask no question but are here for you if you need us.”

Clear announcements. And I’m in the middle of it all.

Everything is so new. So many strangers and my only friend here sits in the room next door and probably thinks exactly the same thing as I do. But maybe it’s good we’re having this introductory workshop separately, because otherwise the temptation to flee after all before it even has started would be too big. Too easy to pull through. 

And with that thought there’s already the next announcement: “If there’ll be a moment during the game in which you feel unwell or even attacked or hurt, or which you because of which reasons whatsoever you can’t or don’t want to continue, loud and clearly say ‘cut!’ If that happens the player will be taken out of the scene immediately. The only allowed question in that situation is ‘Are you alright?’ or ‘Do you need help?’ Apart from that: No questions asked! And no objections either!”

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Nods and relieved glances in the room. And another few guidelines:

“We’re all from different cultural areas and all have another background, another reason and way to play. Before you play a planned scene talk about it with the players involved. Go into the OT bubble (OutTime talk that’s not in the game) and talk through it, set the rules and make sure you’re both comfortable with what will happen. If you do feel unwell draw back from a scene. The player always comes first! Feel well yourself and then play. Once more: The player always comes first!”

Agreeing nods and a few additional questions from the players about security. And this, here, is the moment for me as a player where I am calmed and tell myself: “Hey. The people here seem cool and look nice. Lots of smiles, lots of open commitment to make this play good, safe, and enjoyable for everyone. We’ve already told each other jokes and laughed together at breakfast. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. Everything will be alright.

“Let the game begin!”

* * *

A few hours later I’m standing as pureblood, nervous model student Emma Castillo in my Medieval coat with fox collar and student’s robe next to the Android Cecilia_X87 in front of the castle, my wand tightly in my hand, and in in the line of a whole horde of students, third years first and led by House Flamel, then second years, and finally us first years, the noobs, those who still have to prove themselves and the butterflies in the stomach, the tingling in the fingertips and the heartbeat high in the chest are overpowering. The excitement is real.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Stefan from the orga team calls the start of the game and after a short cheer there’s dead silence. And then the first mottos are screamed in unison for the Houses Faust, Flamel, Grimm, Krabat, and Molin to echo in the dark, frosty night and the goosebumps rise on my skin as we first years join in with the motto of our own that we decided on this afternoon. “Who are we? We are the future!”

No pressure there! It’s ‘only a College of Wizardry’. What could possibly happen?

You can slip on the icy pavement on your way into the castle. No spell can prevent that, but as soon as the inner ward comes into sight the ice under my feet is forgotten. Torches glow, illuminate the castle in the darkness and the yard is filled with magical creatures and reverential and intimidating looking professors of magic.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

During the next forty eight hours Emma Castillo will live through an emotional rollercoaster. There are fairies in this castle and as everyone knows from fairy tales and myths it’s dangerous to make a binding pact with them. Heinzel (gnomes) are keeping the castle clean and hand over the mail among other things. During meals you sit at your House’s tables and as a first year you have to wait for an invitation to do so. The teachers are scary. As is the severe Pedell, who keeps the order and discipline. The House Cup lures with fame but how do I get enough points in the first place?

But first dinner! The tables in the Houses’ colours are wooing and at the same time frightening. House Grimm is already busy with partying, but it’s so scarily loud here that Emma recoils. The people of Krabat are calmer, though no less discouraging, Flamel terrifies the hell out of my character and Faust just can’t be an option. However, the community of Molin looks nice and friendly. There are welcoming smiles and the shy question if one might sit down is answered with a clear and open: “Yes, of course! Join us.” Emma breathes a first sigh of relief and can curiously look around in the busy hall.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

The Heinzel are standing out with their plain clothing and red caps and already carry the first letters. Some are simply handed over, some are read out silently or with screams, some are sung. The students tuck them away silently and stealthily or discuss them out loud with their friends. Old friends meet and hug after the long winter break, old rivals have their first encounter after months or years, already fight a war over the tables at their first bite of food, carry it out with silent glares or yells throughout the hall, hex each other and cackle when the curse hits. Dramas are all around, little and big ones, quiet and loud, back-stabbing and out in the open. No doubt: We’re at a school! And the teenager hormones of the seventeen- to twenty three year olds are raging.

That there’s magic added to the mixture only makes the thing even more interesting. Enchanted sweets and chocolates change hands, eatable stones or drops with little notes on them that tell the players what eating them will cause. Spells are being shown and theories about all kinds of things are being shared. Secrets told. Pets introduced. There’s even supposed to be a drug ring at this school, even though the naive Emma won’t come into contact with that at all, if not Ronja from House Faust doesn’t have one of her overdose attacks. Dinner ends with a short announcement of the Headmaster and afterwards the students and professors distribute in the castle.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

The first evening will be the opportunity for the first years to attend Open House Parties to have a look and hopefully first, promising contact with their wish House—or even to make sure the House you don’t want to join will hate your guts on the next day. It’s also the opportunity to feel the atmosphere. What about all the sweets coursing around? Should Emma accept them or will she get ear-rushing or a love curse if she does? What about her severe parents that want her to end up as an important member of the wizard ministry? Will she be able to find a new family here, perhaps? House Molin for example really does seem nice and even celebrate a member’s birthday today with cake and honey wine…

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Emma won’t visit the other four houses this night and make herself comfortable in Molin’s common room until it’s midnight and with that curfew. She’ll anxiously chew on her nails and hope that she’ll land on the list of first year favourites. Watchmen to be, like her, rarely find their way here—traditionally there’s only one per year—and instead there are more inventors and academics. The Molin Golem watches everything from his pedestal and is supposed to be built back together as tradition dictates. Most of the people here wear funny glasses with technology written all over them. Everywhere in this room you can find a piece of parchment with runes on it. And while outside there seems to be nothing but the “party of the year” inside this common room it’s almost calm, though entertaining, and simply beautiful.

Punctually at midnight Emma is in her bed and will blissfully miss every bit of Shenanigans and werewolf attacks that will happen until 2am.  

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Friday morning brings breakfast and the first lessons.

Magic theory and ethics with Professor Fian is philosophical and also speaks to me as a player. Divination with Professor Nebel sounds so plausible and clear that even as Ylva I am deeply convinced that I now know everything there’s to know about Tarot cards, how to lay them out and how to read them. From Professor Heisenberg in mind magic we learn about how we can hex and influence emotions and even read someone’s mind.

Lunch is loud again and luckily we’re still allowed to join House Molin during the meals without having to fear a curse aimed at you every second. The House Head of Flamel still scares Emma into the ground and Ronja of House Faust is so weird that even the loud Charlotte at table Grimm looks nice and a test of courage for House Krabat seems like a piece of cake in comparison.

After the meal the headmaster announces the start of the House interviews that will take place in the afternoon. The nervousness amongst the first-years rises from hour to hour and the House selection is topic number one.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

The afternoon lessons begin with magical defense and Professor von Faust makes clear that she doesn’t understand fun. Her aura screams to not make any bullshit in this class or we will regret it heavily. We’re not here to laugh. We’re here to fight! And as easy and sorcerous magical defense may sound in theory, after one hour of casting spells, evading curses and learning how to block them I feel like I’d have been running the whole lesson through.

I’m still catching my breath when the Professor for physical defense enters the room, shoulder free shirt, neon coloured sport bracelets, and baseball cap, beer-influenced sixpack clearly visible under his clothes, and…indeed…a Unicorn Pilsener in his hand. Professor Kritzinger (“Peppi, please!”) obviously knows what he’s doing, but severeness doesn’t seem to be his strongest suit in this class. We’re told to fetch us something to drink because “if you’re dehydrated, you can’t defend yourself.” Puzzled glances among us students before there’s a scratching of chairs as we all stand up and obey.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Five minutes later we’re standing in a circle of sixteen, drinks in our hands of course, and get the first lesson in defense. “Balance is, next to proper hydration, the most important thing. So now we’ll all fetch our study books, open the page with my essay and put our right foot onto it whilst lifting our left foot to our right knee, hands outstretched.” Apparently bending the right leg and remaining loose is the optimal goal here.

The first shock of the day we get when we’re in the middle of sword training and a banshee enters the room, beginning to scream. Well, what to do as an inexperienced first year? Peppi’s answer to that: Wait, try stuff, and estimate the situation with what we know. Ten minutes later the banshee leaves for the Dark Forest where she’s looking for her long-missed true love.

Lesson of the day: Words can be more effective than curses or a sword.

The final class of the day, fairy lore with Professor Piepenbrink, is almost relaxing after all the fighting and we learn to distrust fairies and get to know our own weaknesses before the classes end for the day and finally the House Selection starts.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

It’s like sitting in a job interview that happens in a rush: One minute of answering questions and returning them at each of the five House Tables and in Emma’s case trying to stay calm in front of Fiona of Flamel and not show my fear. It’s best to not even look her into the eyes in the first place.

During dinner the nervousness has reached its peak and I’m feeling sick—not only as a character but also as a player. It seems to be a common phenomenon but it is weird. Eating is impossible, the nerves are tingling, and please, pretty-please, let the House Heads of Molin like me enough to invite me into their circle. I go to my room and here it’s happening for the first time that I cry without any cause that I can explain. I’m fine. I really, truly am. As a player I don’t really care which House Emma will join this night, because I will have a great and cool time! But the pressure is real and so I lay on my bed and have no clue what’s happening to me.

Not a minute later everything is over and I have to laugh at myself. This night is going to be fun!

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Emma thinks differently. At 8pm sharp she’s standing in the ballroom and is so anxious that I as a player almost feel nauseous again. My fingernails dig into my palms, the pulse is rushing and when the first years are called out name after name I realise that according to the list I’ll be one of the last ones. The group of Molin is growing and growing…no chance that I’ll get my place there. And yet…when Emma Castillo is called out and one moment later the whole House Molin is yelling their motto and cheers, I’m close to tearing up again. Out of pure happiness this time. And not a second later I find myself in the middle of a group hug that I can’t recall ever having in real life. Ever.

The secret and wonderfully atmospheric admission ritual gives me goosebumps and once more wet eyes and the evening is filled with smiles and warmth. Almost every friend of Emma has found their place here, there’s cake and cocktails, secrets and talks. Emerald membership bracelets are slipped over wrists, hugs are everywhere, and the green House ties are handed out. Rarely I’ve felt this comforted and at home amongst a group, even outside the game. And the bracelet I’m still wearing as I write these lines.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Emma’s day ends with curfew at midnight again while in the tavern downstairs the real party begins. On the way to my room Emma meets third years with a baby dragon on their arm, lots of students seem to have changed their eye colour or seem to be otherwise enchanted. They laugh and mourn, scream, rage, drink, cast spells, and celebrate. During the night there’ll be demon summonings, more werewolf attacks, a secret wedding the spouses can’t remember as soon as morning strikes, and many more happenings that Emma will miss, because Ylva already tries to go to sleep. It finally happens around 1am. Breakfast at 7.30. A day filled with magic is thoroughly exhausting…

Breakfast with correctly bound tie at “my House table”. What a great feeling!

The night shows on many players’ and characters’ faces alike. It’s Professor von Faust’s birthday and rumour has it she partied all night. Best to talk calmly to her this morning and quietly. The professor for fairy lore has even more strange tattoos on his face than yesterday, Ronja suddenly has amber eyes, and opposed to yesterday the dining hall is almost spookily deserted. Sleeping in seems to be more important today than the first meal of the day.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Topic number one is the ball which will take place this evening. Who already has a date, who doesn’t? Who needs help and needs to be set up? Male, female, neither? Romantic or platonic? Who knows who the headmaster will be taking to the ball? Wasn’t there a secret interest of him in Professor Nyx? Maybe there can be something arranged to receive a nice looking House point bonus. The cup will be given out tonight as well! Fact is though that no one here will go alone to the ball. No one! For those who need help each House has a Date Doctor, who collects the names of those in search and in the afternoon everyone will be paired up at last.

Classes start too early regarding last night’s celebrations and a lot of students don’t even appear, even though it isn’t less interesting. Is it magic-theoretically, ethically correct to collect potion ingredients from living animals? How do I put someone into trance for a better divination and what are the risks? How do I cast complex emotions on someone without inflicting remaining damage?

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

One thing is clear very quickly though: Whereas yesterday we first years were a collective bunch of students who stuck together, today the House memberships split the group immensely into smaller islands of the same colour and the hostility among some is palpable.

Lunch. More classes.

How do I defend myself against an impulse curse and what were the words and movement again for that singing charm? What do I do when a student is hurt because a spell hit too badly?

What do I do when there’s a mad minotaur set loose in the next room, attacking third years? Peppi’s tip: Watch and wait if the third years manage without you. When in doubt fetch his mighty hammer that—according to OT note—is too heavy for you.

How do I trick a pair of fairies into bringing back spring without selling my soul, my “me” or maybe even something worse.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Photo session for the Houses.


For the ball we meet in front of the common rooms and this time in reverse order from the first day: first years first, third years last. The professors and their dates will await us downstairs in front of the ballroom. The excitement is all around again, the fear of being stood up however, is missing. What remains is the gossip and gasps of awe in sight of some ball gowns, dresses and magical clothing.

At 8pm the procession downstairs begins. There’s champagne for everyone and the professors are last to enter the hall. After a short opening speech of the headmaster the ball is opened with a waltz… only a few really know how but it wouldn’t be a LARP if you wouldn’t be able to bullshit your way through the whole thing. Stand, rock back and forth with your partner and simply pretend you know what you’re doing. Do it your way and everything will be fine.

After the opening dance there’s the opportunity to get your portrait taken and the House bars are emptied to be distributed in the whole castle for everybody’s entertainment.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Back in the ballroom there’s 80s music playing and Emma has the time of her life. Ylva too.

When the last song ends and with it the ball the hall is close to bursting with people again and ready to listen to the last speech of the Headmaster. The House Cup is presented and the House points are called out, losing speeches held, until finally House Grimm receives the Cup with a huge smile to scream their happiness into the ballroom. The N.I.M.B.U.S. has to be a union, Charlotte Grimm yells into the crowd and earns approving cheers. No question: House Grimm knows how to party! The N.I.M.B.U.S. hymn is sung and Stefan, the Gamemaster, steps onto the stage to end the game officially.

The castle roars with applause.

* * *

Later on the corridors I meet Professor von Faust and laugh merrily with her about her role, hug the player of the wonderfully portrayed Android Cecilia_X87, give Professor Nebel my praise and even though I am drained and have no energy left and I really need to go to bed, I part with much reluctance.

The celebrations go all night and on the next evening Ylva is back at home and despite the construction noise outside, cat miaowing, piano sounds from next door, and an audiobook to keep me at least some company, it is eerily silent.

My conclusion: The post con blues everybody talked about is real. And is has hit me hard. Jessi and I have driven back home tired, exhausted after four days of constant program and people all around us and too many impressions to work through at once, and yet there’s that odd feeling of “wanting to have done more”. You’re at your limit and yet you feel strangely wonderful. Like someone has tidied up your brain or you had an emotional reboot. All the worries and stress of the past months are gone. Just like that. After just four days of time out.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Sleep is impossible for the next two nights. You lie in bed and instantly start walking through the corridors again in your head, on the search for new adventures. You think of your friends you had at the N.I.M.B.U.S. and smile. It’s too quiet in your own bed without the constant background noise, the emotions too occupied with catching up with the experience. I feel for the Molin bracelet around my wrist and am back in the common room, live through the admission ritual for the second time, feel the goosebumps, the happiness, the hugs…want to go back. Now. Instantly!

I don’t care that on Saturday I thought I was too tired to even eat lunch or to go to magical defense (sorry, Professor!). I don’t care that all Jessi and I did during our drive back was to make sure the other one stays alert. By the end of the second day after the CoW I sit at my computer, looking up the next dates. The next German-speaking one will be in February 2018, but there are English-speaking ones before. And a couple of them too! I start to dream, to plan, to look at the bank account. I mark the dates. It’s not a matter of if I will participate again any longer. It’s a matter of when.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

Because four days with almost 200 wonderful, amazing, lovely people at a castle lay behind me. Four days of emotional rollercoaster, tears of every taste, hours with mutuals, and magical experiences.

A time I don’t want to miss. I am extremely glad I was a part of this.

Heaps of thanks to the people behind the LARP, the organisation who made it all possible to begin with. Warm hugs for every participant, every helper, and every player who made this such a great four days, especially the mutuals in House Molin. It was my very first LARP and you made it into this beautiful experience, let me join your family and gave me the feeling that Castle Zamek Kliczków indeed is my second home. Forever and ever.

*photo by Przemysław Jendroska for Dziobak Larp Studios

You are amazing people and I already am looking forward to the next time.

“Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family!”

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3 Kommentare zu “Entering the Vast World of LARP

  1. C. Cummins says:

    Great report! I’m thinking about going to the English-language larp at Czhocha in 2018, so I’m reading everything I can about the different College of Wizardry larps.

    Most of the material on NIMBUS is in German, so it was great to see an English-language report about it that I can read.

    A question – How much pre-game character preparation did you do? I hear a lot about people playing scenes out on Facebook, etc.

    1. Ylva Ylva says:

      What a lovely comment, thank you so much! I’m happy I could provide you a text in English 🙂

      I have to admit I was super lazy as far as character preparation went and nearly didn’t do anything. Partly because I simply didn’t have the time, and partly because I just didn’t know what to expect at all. The great thing here was that not much was required: We had to fill in a list with stuff a few months in advance (which year we wanted our character to be in, what kind of training we preferred etc.) but that was basically it, apart from showing up with a wand.

      Friends of mine went pretty wild with preparations though, just as you said on facebook or even in private. It comes a bit with the role you choose too, of course (House Prefects and teachers should have stuff prepared), and if you want to you can go nuts over preparations, from costumes to spinning stories with other players to play out when the LARP comes. But again: The nice thing about the NIMBUS is that you don’t necessarily have to do too much preparation and can participate “just as you are” and have just as much fun.

      I hope the answers helped? Feel free to ask more if there’s anything else you want to know. And I wish you a lot of fun should you go to Chzhocha next year. I definitely recommend it. It was absolutely amazing, even for a newbie like me.
      I’m considering attending an English-language larp in Czhocha too next time. But we’ll see if I’ll be able to squeeze it into the next year 🙂
      Have a great day and thanks again for your questions!

  2. C. Cummins says:

    That’s very helpful indeed. Thanks!

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