Friday, August 14, 2009

Hogwarts United: well organized immersion

Newly hired assistant librarian Diogenes Penthesileia Kuhr and Head Librarian Siorai Timeless in the library at Hogwarts castle.

Mind you, my heart will always belong to Deadwood, but I do like to go exploring. And do you remember how I was telling you about being intrigued by the application and orientation system being used at Hogwarts United, a Harry Potter-themed immersion rp environment? And I told you how I had gone through the process, applying to be a staff member, and I would let you know how it turned out?

Well, boys and girls, I got hired!

I am an assistant librarian working in the school library, with a special emphasis on looking after the restricted and "dangerous" collections, although I also have been called on to take the front reference desk and help students with their research needs. This was my first week and it's been a blast, as well as an interesting and enlightening experience.

I have been switching back and forth between Deadwood and Hogwarts, and so far it's worked out pretty well. I'm pretty much just wearing my formal Victorian ensemble, but without the over-skirt and bustle, so the changeover doesn't involve a lot of extra effort to switch wardrobes. Fortunately, wizards and witches being sort of eccentric folks to start with, this look seems to fit in pretty well. But I'll say a bit more about costuming later on.

First, back to the admission process. You may recall that I had to do a lengthy written application that included a well developed backstory (retired Auror with PTSD, looking for something useful to do). Then I went to an Out of Character (OOC) interview with one of the admissions people (a charming young lady who mostly focused on asking questions designed to determine if I had a clue about the canon or not). After that I went to an OOC orientation class with a group of other new folks, and we got a good review of how things work in this community.

Then I had to wait for my face-to-face interview.

After a few days I heard from Deputy Headmisstress Anastasja Barbasz, who set up and conducted the meeting in her lovely office in the castle. The interview was done in character, and was a fascinating melding of roleplaying and a serious examination of me, the candidate. With us both in character, Deputy Headmisstress Barbasz was fun to interact with: I assume part of the exercise here was to make sure that (A.) I can actually roleplay effectively, and (B.) I'm not some kind of mega tap-dancing douche. But I genuinely enjoyed it.

I seemed to have managed to convince Ms. Barbasz about the mega tap-dancing douche issue, because lo and behold, a week or so later (Headmaster was on vacation and so the process was a bit slower than it most likely usually is) I was informed I had been hired and was told to report to the Head Librarian.

This brought me into contact with Head Librarian Siorai Timeless, who was just an absolute delight as she got me squared away on how the library functions, and what would be expected of me. In this process, there were a couple of surprises, the most interesting of which was being informed that I would be working the front desk and helping the students. This shows that these folks had a lot of faith in me, thinking that I am in any way of a temperament or otherwise appropriately suited to work with impressionable young people. Either that, or there is a serious flaw in their interview system that let me slip through.

But one of the key things I learned from Sio is that if there is no actual notecard or flip-style"book" available from the library's shelves covering the topic that a student is studying, then I would get to roleplay finding them the book. AND if I so chose, I could make up some plausible title and related details about the imaginary volume.

WOOHOO! This was real fun as I chattered away at the students about books I invented such as "The Idiot's Guide to Quidditch," "Treasures of Transfiguration." and "Great Duels I Witnessed: or How in Baal's name did he do that?" I got a bit carried away on the dueling book, explaining in detail about how it had been written by a man named McKromsky who had been Europe's best known referee of magical duels in the last century. However, being as he was pretty thoroughly drunk at almost every wizards' duel he ever refereed, there were holes in his memory and a lot of what was in the book was simply shit that he had made up. I did however, tell the students that it was really fun to read. At first I just rp'd giving the kids a book to sign out, but then I found an old freebie volume with a reading anim in the inventory, so I started giving them that.

After a few days of this kind of book duty and just observing and reacting, I began to initiate a few minor situations, and soon had some pretty full blown rp conversations of a philosophical and dramatic nature going. I had a lot of fun with some students (including my old friends from Deadwood, Tallulah and Guru) and several of the staff, including Professor Diesel (one of the charms instructors) and Nyx Carnell, the arithmancy and transfiguration professor. Nyx was a really good sport, putting up with my rambling and pontificating long after he should have gone to bed, and he is, like many of the folks in this environment, really damn good at the art of rp.

One of the most interesting interactions I had was with the guy in charge, Headmaster Nikolaidis. Now, be honest: when you think headmaster of a wizard school, you think some old Goodgulf Grayteeth character, right? A benevolent, grandfatherly old sod with twinkling eyes, a beard the size of Honduras, and shuffling around in a grubby old bathrobe with stars glued to it, right?

This ain't that kind of headmaster.

He's younger than me, slim and all dressed in leather, sporting a neatly trimmed goatee, and dude! ...about as benevolent and jolly as Genghis Khan. This man is serious, hard as nails, and ready for any shit that might come down the pike. He had combat blades strapped to his legs and an attitude that was...well....let me put it this way: when I offered that I had heard that he had something of a sense of humor (not sure where I got THAT from) he stared at me for a minute and then said flatly that he "was not aware of having anything like that."

Damn. If Dio wasn't a tough ol' kakootza herself, I think she'd have crawled under a rock and waited for dark to fall so she could escape unnoticed.

But don't get me wrong -- I thought this was really appealing and engaging. You have to keep in mind that this version of Hogwarts is set about 10 years after the last of the Harry Potter books ends. It is a new world, and still certainly dangerous. I have heard from several people, including the headmaster, that there have been bad things happening, people getting attacked, and that many of the students--being the children of the deatheater generation--have some pretty intolerant tendencies going. It really struck me that this was a headmaster who would NOT put up with any nonsense or folderol, and who would kick asses and take names if he had to.

And yet, at the same time, he told me his main goal was to encourage "the students to learn from one another."

Fucking fascinating...

Canon is there, it is respected--but it is just a starting point. What is being done here feels like "Potter: The Next Generation." Hell, I seem to be oldest person in the goddam castle, at least so far as I can tell (though I am still meeting folks). Most of the staff are in their 20's and 30's. Look at the picture of Sio, the head Librarian: she's a very attractive young lady, dressed in a sleek but practical pants suit, nicely coiffed and with cool glasses. Lots of the other folks are a bit more traditional in gowns and pointy hats, but's not your granddaddy's Hogwarts. The castle itself has the elements you would expect--great hall, towers, moving staircase, cloisters, dungeon like classrooms--but it also has a clean and slightly modernized feel to it. It's not all dark and cluttered, which in reality is probably a function of keeping prims under control, but mentally, it's easy to think that it's all an aspect of this "new Hogwarts" way of doing things. You can also imagine it is perhaps the result of the general clean-up and repairs that had to be done after the big battle that happens in the last book and which undoubtedly did a good deal of damage to the castle.

The approach that is taken by the players is admirable. There are classes that the students attend, uniforms are worn, and points given and taken from the various houses. Intrigue and rivalries abound. The teachers have to make syllabi, recommend books, and present lectures and demonstrations. The students are given homework, and come into the library complaining about it. The school administration clearly has planned out what they need and what they can manage from a practical standpoint, and when they had all their staff slots filled, they sent out an announcement saying that no more new staff would be hired until next term.

This is really well thought out and people have made a commitment that is impressive.

Is this for everyone?

No, of course not. It is rather demanding of time and energy. I imagine a lot of people burn out pretty quickly. Casual guests cannot wander in and ramble about the castle (though they can in the adjoining Hogsmeade village). And it takes awhile to get into this. I think of myself as a pretty experienced and adaptable roleplayer, but when I first got in, I felt constrained to quietly go about my assigned tasks and at most, give or respond to polite greetings. I observed and listened, and people pretty much left me alone until I was ready to begin getting to know them a bit and engaging them a little. It all felt very very real in terms of how people adjust to new situations.

My guess is that you need to be one of those in-between personalities. If you're really shy, you might get into this and go for weeks or months without talking to anyone very much. Or if you're a rampaging psychotic attention whore, you're probably going to bump up against the wall of the existing community culture, and burst into a mass of flaming farts, after which you'll go back to your usual haunts and whine about how insular and "cliquish" those people in Hogwarts are.

But hey, that's life on the grid, right? Me, I'm going to keep at this and see where it goes. Like I said, I love exploring, but sometimes, you really can't learn much by just visiting a culture for an hour or two, and then hope to come away saying you understand it. When it is this complex, you have to live in it and try to be a part of it. And so far, I am really enjoying living in this environment, and I am grateful to the Hogwarts United folks for opportunity to try to be a small part of it and understand their rp community a little better.


  1. Wow! Thanks for that update Dio. In truth I'd forgotten you'd applied so to find this post was a nice surprise - reading it was an enlightening 10 minutes indeed!

    I *think* that style of RP would appeal to me but only if it was the right setting - and Potter is not for me (never read one or seen a film, dunno sommat doesn't tickle me about them). But that aside the 100% commited RP of the players sounds wonderfully engrossing. I look forward to more reports! :)

    p.s. Goodgulf Grayteeth! I *really* must read that book again - it had a massive effect on me when I read it at 12 or so :)

  2. Hey HB, like I say, it's not for everyone, and cetainly if you didn't happen to get into the Potter saga, it would be kinda problematic to try to be a part of this rp.

    For me, it's a natural, being as I read the Potter books out loud with my kids, and we also listened to them in books-on-tape form during long drives back and forth between the midwest and the east coast when I had my summer visitation with them. So I already had a pretty good grasp on the canon.

    And after all, that is one of the essential elements to make this kind of rp work: those involved in the rp need a source for a mutually-agreed-upon reality that will shape their actions and gives meaning to the choices they make as they build their stories. You also need that shared knowledge set to determine the details of language style and vocabulary, environment and building style, clothing and technology, and who populates the storyline.

    Otherwise you get things like Anthony and Cleopatra fighting nazi vampires with light sabres in suburban New Jersey.

    Which could be fun too, but in a different way.

  3. *notices this blog while trying to find the schedule for HU from my laptop and pleasantly reads the blog of someone that has interacted with me once thus far in Hogwarts United.*

    I hope to further discuss Auras with you *winks*

  4. Hi Maxime,
    thanks for stopping by! Yep, see you in the library