Cantrip Comprehensive: The Staff

The Comprehensive is what passes for a community school in the magic(k)al subculture of the Shadow World and as such takes the magically talented of all degrees of talent and all social strata through its gates. This acclimates the kids to real life experience by making sure that they’re victimised and bullied from the moment they arrive and it also tends to lead to world-weary teachers who wish they had proper jobs somewhere else, anywhere but here.

The Comprehensive teaches a broad curriculum, covering basic conventional subjects as well as magic(k)al concepts. The staff include teachers of all grades of ability and enthusiasm – or lack thereof. The school might be cheap, but some people still have ideological reasons for teaching in a State magic(k)al school, or simply aren’t welcome in the private ones.

Headmaster: Mr Punch
Mr Punch is not actually a Wizard. Ever since wizarding school, which – he has no idea why he was sent to – he has faked it and the whole thing has sort of gotten out of hand. Now he finds himself in charge of a full comprehensive magical school. His way of dealing with this is to hide in his office and not come out unless he really has to. Most years he gets away with this, only venturing forth when new kids are taken in in September to give a mumbled speech and then fleeing back to his office. Mr Punch is a big, broad shoulders and barrel-bellied man in his mid fifties with a penchant for tweed suits and spectacles on chains, though he still somehow manages to lose track of them. He is a bumbling idiot and knows he is, so staying out of the way is probably his best plan.

Assistant Head: Miss Encephala
Grey skinned, Miss Encephala has an octopus for a head and speaks in pinched, hissing tones. She has an unnerving habit of stroking pupil’s heads with her gooey tentacles while she’s talking to them. Her stare is unnerving and unblinking and she utterly, utterly, loathes children of all kinds. With Mr Punch hiding in her office she has to do his job as well as hers and this has made her even more psychotic. In acts of petty revenge she undermines the school by spending its money on pointless things, making it look nice trying to make money from it and not replacing books or magic(k)al equipment unless forced to.

Head of Physical Education: Mister(?) Alex Silverbirch
Of indetermine gender this half-elven teacher acts slightly inappropriately with students of both sexes and his… her… its(?) gender is a topic of much speculation amongst the student body. Short haired, fine featured and dressed in a turquoise tracksuit, Silverbirch is in charge of the much hated PE department and has to cobble together a Bigpitch team. Cantrip Comprehensive always, always loses, but nobody in the school cares.

Physical Education: Miss Krunk
Half Troll and all woman, Miss Krunk lives a double life. At the school she’s as butch and demanding as they come, forcing kids to go through their mandated physical education classes, the minimal exercise that a magician is required to do not to turn into a fat blob or to snap in a stiff wind. Out of school she likes pretty dresses, flowers and collects My Little Ponies, a dichotomy that pupils who encounter her outside of school can’t get their heads around.

Caretaker: Mr Slaugh
A creepy, shadowy figure, Mr Slaugh doesn’t sleep and is always lurking, somewhere in the school, ready to mop the floors, clean the toilets, replace lightbulbs and anything else that needs to be done. Nobody ever sees him actually doing the work, but it seems to get done. When he’s not working he’s found in the boiler room which is hot, dark and spooky.

Nurse: Mrs Klump
Mrs Klump is a construct, a stitched together mish-mash of pieces that don’t really fit well together. Despite this she has a heart of gold (perhaps literally) and mothers any hurt kids almost unbearably until their parents come to get them. Oddly this tends to put kids off ‘pulling a sickie’ to get out of class as they can’t bear to be treated like babies.

Office Staff: The Triplets
Rather than maiden, mother, crone, The Triplets are reception, admin, secretarial. The same woman, divided into three, she styles her hair differently in each form to help people distinguish between them and uses small amounts of magic to make her job/s easier.

Head of English & Magical Languages: Madame Gorget
A penanggal, Madame Gorget is attached to her body by a metal collar. As teacher of English and Magical Languages she is strict beyond belief and has no patience whatsoever for kids who do not share her talent for languages and dishes out far too many punishments and often calls kids stupid. That’s a vampiric temperament for you.

English & Magical Languages: Mr Pott
Mr Pott is half dwarf and all insane. While a brilliant and inspiring teacher with a real talent for languages he is an energetic, vibrating ball of energy that’s barely contained at the best of times. He can be overwhelming in his sheer enthusiasm and loudness, something that doesn’t endear him to other teachers who can’t sustain that level of enthusiasm.

Head of Alchemy: Mr McBastard
Another half-dwarf, Mr McBastard heads of the alchemy department the largest one, largely because it’s the most  commercial and thus gets most of the funding from Miss Encephala, much to the resentment of other departments. Mr McBastard doesn’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks, least of all his students upon whom he practices his drill sergeant routine in his deep, Scottish brogue.

Alchemy: Miss Neem
Miss Neem is an intensely disinterested alchemy teacher who is really just phoning it in. Part basilisk she has to hide her death-ray gaze behind some big, bug-eyed sunglasses. You can still feel her glare though, whenever you disrupt the class, she just wants to get through it as fast as the kids do.

Alchemy: Mister Larry
During a research trip to the Outer Hebrides, Mr Larry was bitten by the legendary Venemous Vampire Sheep of those island fields.  He didn’t turn fully, but did manage to limit the effect so that he only turns into a sheep during a full moon. Occasionally he ‘slips’ during the rest of the month, but he tries to keep it under wraps while working on side projects that interest him far more than teaching, desperate to get the respect he used to have as a field wizard.

Alchemy: Mr Noot
An ill-advised government programme offers to let magicians who work in other fields of the magic(k)al underworld take up teaching without any training. Mr Noot is a typical product of this, a ‘teacher’ who has no idea  what the hell he’s doing and over whom the kids ride completely roughshod. He couldn’t teach his way out of a wet paper bag and his classes are reminiscent of a school of piranhas devouring a confused – and possibly retarded – cow. He gets very red faced and smacks his lips when upset, which only makes it worse.

Head of Scribing & Enchantment: Mrs Bumble
Mrs Bumble is a frustrated painter who would much rather live in the lake district painting watercolours but because of her lack of real talent and her magic(k)al capabilities finds herself teaching calligraphy, sculpting and enchantment to students who may even be better at it than she is. Out of bitter resentment she deeply criticises even the slightest flaw in any student’s work and has, thus, put many possible great enchanters completely off the field forever.

Scribing & Enchantment: Rosebud
A forest nymph, Miss Rosebud is a subject of some controversy amongst parents and staff – and the older pupils – split almost entirely along gender lines. A naked green girl with only three strategically placed leaves to cover her modesty causes awkward questions and problems. That said, she’s one of the few good teachers who actually cares about her pupils and her bursting into tears is the ultimate disciplinary tool.

Head of Never Again: Mrs Popper
The department of ‘Never Again’ is what passes for history and it’s their responsibility to ensure that future generations do not make the huge magic(k)al mistakes of the past. Mrs Popper is enthusiastic in her task, especially when talking about the darker, nastier parts of history. Perpetually pregnant she has a love of silly voices, hats, props and illusory magic when she’s teaching.

Never Again: Doctor Smee
A creaking, dusty, slow-talking old fool Smee maintains his position through sheer stubbornness, despite having had a retirement party at least five times. They’ve now given up firing him and since he forgets to ask to be paid they let him hold his mumbled classes in the school library. Most kids don’t even bother turning up.

Head of Magical Theory: Mr Pond
Mr Pond is perpetually damp-looking, with a hideous comb-over. His clammy presence chills the room and while he’s jovial and chummy and means nothing bad by it, it still manages to come across as creepy. He’s very keen and competent when it comes to magical theory but is far more interested in being ‘down with the kids’. Something that he’s not nearly so good at.

Magical Theory: Miss Turkey
Part harpy, Miss Turkey has an annoying, screeching voice and has to sit on a perch while teaching class. She’s great at magical theory  but her appearance and patchy feathers are unsettling, even disgusting and tend to put most of the kids off learning. She has a lot of sympathy for other half-breeds in the school system and runs a little support group at lunchtimes.

There are other teachers of course, filling in gaps and standing in when Mr Larry turns into a sheep, but these are the teachers who really shape the school experience for the pupils.

I don’t like to play

I am not, by nature, a player. Not in the ‘pimp’ or ‘douchebag’ sense but in the gaming sense. I am by preference and inclination a Games Master and always have been. Sure, I can and do enjoy gaming from the player’s perspective but I’m never, ever so happy as I am ‘behind the screen’. My creativity feels like it needs a broader canvas than one typically gets from being a player and I simply can’t help but think ‘I would do this differently’ when I’m playing someone else’s game. I also tend to have ambitions and goals for my characters that end up being beyond the scope of the game and the capacity of the GM to accommodate.

This is why I write games I think, even beyond being the GM I need to let all these ideas out and yet, being a GM (or a game writer) isn’t like being an author. You’re not creating a story, you’re creating a context, a space, an arena in which stories can come about. You’re trying to inspire, not tell, to dangle threads that other people can pick up on and run with.

I get more satisfaction playing in games that are either more sandboxy, or more defined. A mission based game gives you a hard structure and you have few expectations of going beyond it. A sandbox game gives you the freedom to pursue your own goals. Some games allow player ‘buy in’ with points or opportunities to shape the game world but without a flexible and skilled GM, that rarely goes that well or come through to its largest extent.

I love games of all kinds, I love reading games, playing games, writing games but I’m just not 100% happy unless I’m running the game.

What about you? Are you a player or a GM? What’s your favourite aspect of gaming? Do you like GM authority or player democracy? Does everyone in your group GM or is it just you?

Grim’s Tales: Comic Fantasy

Comedy’s bloody difficult when it comes to gaming and in fantasy gaming as much as the other genres what makes for a successful comedy game is generally down to some very simple things.

  • Comedic concepts: Characters with built in schticks failings will tend to supply their own comedy by playing up to it.
  • Incompetence: Failure is much more amusing than success, unless the success is horribly unexpected and counterintuitive.
  • A Formula: THE great comedy RPG is Paranoia, which relies very much on a formulaic approach. This helps build expectations and create recurring jokes. The same is true of some of the most successful fantasy fiction – like Discworld – running jokes become anticipated and can be all the funnier for it.
  • Exaggeration: Whatever characteristics a character or an enemy has they’re more funny – at least can be made so easily – if they’re dialled up to eleven.

Fantasy is probably one of the easier genres to turn into a comedy because it’s so steeped in stereotypes that can be played up to. Dwarves and beards (and gold and Scottish accents). Elves and their androgynous, ambiguous gender, their hippy tendencies and relationship with plants, halflings being fat, orcs being stupid… the whole genre gains much of its success, across media, from the sheer familiarity of these ideas.

Comedy comes from exaggerating or subverting these conventions. Perhaps the dwarf’s beard is so long he trips over it, or he doesn’t have one and is forced to wear false beards, like a sort of inverted Lux Luthor. Perhaps it’s a female dwarf with a long, luxuriant beard who is, nonetheless, very feminine – as feminine as a dwarf can be anyway. Perhaps an elf who overcompensates for his androgyny by being rampantly homophobic and excessively concerned about coming across as masculine. and butch.

Anachronism is another route to comedy and something Terry Pratchett does extremely well. Magic can substitute greatly for technology and do many of the same things – or similar things – but its effect on a fantasy world can be hugely profound and have many comedic side effects. Imagine ubiquitous crystal balls and the ‘television’ that a fantasy world might create, or a thieve’s quarter, dark and dingy, lit up by illusory signs, crossing genres in appearance with cyberpunk. That is another way to get some comedy out of fantasy, subvert the genre, mash it up with others, the beauty of fantasy is that just about anything goes.

Wizkid Review

The irascible RPGPundit review Wizkid over HERE.

In defence of:

The Nookie Skill:

Personally I feel that sex is overlooked in games. The skill originally came into being with the adult comedy books for Mongoose Publishing, under 3rd Edition D&D and with the Macho Women With Guns d20 game. It got translated from that into the Xpress system and I’m perfectly happy with it being there. Sex gets overlooked in games and having a skill lets you ‘fade to black’ but have some kind of grasp on how good a lover your character is and how well they performed. The Shadow World games take this a little further because they’re taking the piss out of youth culture and a great deal of that is to do with fucking and the pursuit of fucking.

Adult content in Wizkid:

Part of what we’re parodying is the sordid and disgusting world of fan and slash fiction which often involves things a hell of a lot worse than conventional fucking. The stuff in Wizkid is relatively tame by comparison.