75. The temptation to only do College of Wizardry

I run a larp production company. I also do larp volunteer work. For many years I did larps for non-larpers to pay my bills, and larps for larpers for my own sake. A couple of years ago, that started changed. These days, professionally, I make larps for a larp audience (with a focus on making them accessible to first-timers) and have a team that does them with me.

This team needs to get paid, and that means that when we launch new projects, we need to consider the economic side. Of course, we want to do stuff that’s fun, memorable, interesting and impactful, and if possible challenging and innovative as well, but we also need to make ends meet.

This doesn’t mean that all our larps are good for us financially (they aren’t), but it’s a factor. And that’s where the temptation to drop everything else and doing only College of Wizardry comes in.

Now, why are those thoughts relevant to people outside our team? They are, because others are in the same boat, where they have to consider whether to try out something new or build on the already succesful. This is true for movies, games and larps – both for full time pro larpers and those who do this on a volunteer basis.

So let’s take a look at this in depth.

It’s hard to overestimate the value of doing something that works. It lets you tweak details instead of trying to make the core experience work. It gives you confidence and freedom to experiment with new things. You’re never guaranteed that a larp will go well, but after twelve CoWs, we’re pretty sure it’ll be at least ok.

Some things need to be live-fire tested. One luxury of doing the same larp over and over is that you get to fix things and improve them. Mistakes and unexpected things still happen, but on a completely different scale than if you’re running a one-shot event. We’ve learned a LOT from running CoW so many times, and it shows.

When we started, we brought a van full of stuff with us from Denmark, and some carloads from our Polish base. Now, we have a huge storage space filled with the most insane items. 2000 tea lights? Check. Multiple full-body monster costumes? Check. 200 lanterns? Check. 40 monk robes? Check. And it’s not just the larp stuff. It’s cameras, mobile heaters, professional lighting equipment, speakers and more.

Much of this can be used for other larps (because that’s how we invest), but some things are CoW specific. The portraits of the House animals that hang in the Common Rooms are CoW-only, as are the huge statues that stand on the tables to mark House tables. This is some of the stuff that makes CoW come alive, and there’s a LOT of it.

The fantasy of just doing CoW is especially tempting when considering what to use money on. We’ve recently bought new heaters for the castle, to keep heating bills down in the long run. We’ve used money to improve the castle kitchen. Every investment we make in Czocha and CoW counts for a lot, since we do 6–7 events here pr year.

Now imagine we ONLY did CoW, and that every single investment was a CoW specific investment. Ahh… it would be glorious.

Even while staying in the CoW universe, there’s a lot of freedom. We’ve done regular CoW and a middle-of-the-year edition called Midterm Madness. This year we’re doing both a Winter Banquet and a special event called The Challenge, which pits three schools against each other. There are already two independent spinoff blockbuster larps (New World Magischola and Nibelungen), with a third (Bothwell) joining this year. And a ton of smaller, player-creates spinoff events on top of that.

We’ve been asked to do 1920's CoW, future CoW, Renaissance CoW and even a bizarre, humorous ‘Allo ‘Allo inspired Nazi CoW. We’ve had suggestions for End-of-year exams (which will definitely happen), summer study trips (which might) and for Czocha as a Mundane boarding school (which won’t).

In short, there’s still plenty of interesting stuff to do within the CoW universe. Even without leaving Czocha.

We know that (as a rule) a CoW larp will get a certain number of players. We know it’ll be a great experience for a lot of people. We even have a pretty good idea of the financial side of it. Choosing to do another CoW as opposed to doing something new means that we don’t have to worry. We can just have fun and do the work required to make it awesome.

New projects are a completely different story. They’re risky. They’re hard. They can fail. CoW? CoW is reasonably safe. And ironically, that safety means that we get to make it even better, because we’re not afraid of taking chances.

A non-obvious aspect of this is that we love the CoW community. It’s filled with a lot of different individuals, of course, and not everyone gets along equally well, but as a community, it is wild. It’s full of kind-hearted, creative and amazing people, many of whom I count as personal friends. Doing something that makes the community happy and that has its support – that is intensely gratifying.

Of course, sometimes the CoW community is a bit like a madhouse, and trying to even pretend to manage it feels like surfing on a tidal wave, holding on for dear life. But in general, it’s nothing short of fantastic, and I love engaging with it.

Doing CoW has taught me some harsh truths about branding – both personal, professional and project wise. I’ve been doing larps professionally for almost 15 years, but very few people know that. No, I’m the guy who does College of Wizardry. Have I done anything else? Who cares!

Of course, there are some who know of my previous (or other) work, but they are few compared to how many know of me in relation to CoW.

The thing is that since most people focus on the strongest “brand”, it takes immense effort to get other things to even register. And for me, and for Dziobak Larp Studios, our College of Wizardry brand is tremendously strong, compared to anything else we might have done. By focusing on making that brand even stronger, we’d be playing to our strengths instead.

After all, if we’re the team that does College of Wizardry, then it’s to our advantage to be the team that does College of Wizardry. It’s not like I’m any better myself. I know several of the people who run The Witcher School, but I don’t know the name of their company. To me, they’re The Witcher School group, even if I know they do more cool stuff than that.

This is a long-term strategy thing. We still get the occasional spike on our website because the original College of Wizardry trailer has been picked up somewhere. News travels fast, but it also travels slow. And by doing one thing and one thing only, we maximize the value of that slow news. If all we do is CoW, it doesn’t matter if it takes four years for the news of it to reach someone. When we get mails about Legends of Arabia (which ran in December 2016), all we can say is “Sorry, you’re too late.”. When we get CoW mails, they’re always in time. :-)

I’m pretty sure that when others start commenting on this article, I’ll think of more reasons, but for now, this will do. The central point is that there are many reasons to go single-larp. Many and tempting.

Because we’re driven by a lust for variety, challenging ourselves and loving new ideas as much as any other larp organiser. Because we want to do other larps as well. At the end of the day, I love doing College of Wizardry, but I’m also glad that we’re a production house that does MORE than just wizard larps.

But I’ll admit that the temptation is still there!

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Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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