Sunday, October 3, 2010

King Tut moves into my classroom.

This past Friday, October 1, we began a year-long LARP, known as Tut. Every other year, the theme in my classroom at Paideia School is Ancient Egypt. We tie in as many areas of the curriculum as we can, and the Tut LARP is one of the core elements that integrates and inspires much of our study.

I wrote this LARP years ago but continue to update it based on current research and from observations of students' interests during previous years' sessions. Kids come into my class knowing that a game is coming, and this year's bunch have been excited since August. As I mentioned in a previous post, I cast the characters, which is quite a commitment for the school year, so I always wait at least a few weeks in order better to know them and their relationships with one another. I had a good feeling about this bunch.

On the last Friday in September, we spent the afternoon introducing the game and handing out their character folders. Each character itself is about ten pages long, including basic information like titles, age, and personality; historical background; relationships with and opinions of all of the other characters; traits and card list; initial goals; events and tasks during the seasons and festivals of the Ancient Egyptian year; pertinent religious hymns; and their game cards. Each folder also has a copy of the basic game rules, overview of the year, royal family tree, government hierarchy, maps, and any other items that accompany an individual character.

In designing the game, I wanted to give each participant more than enough material to occupy them for a school year, roughly fifty hours of play. They soon generate plenty of their own goals and obstacles as well. The cards allow them to affect the game and one another or to block someone trying to do so. Cards are a limited resource, though there are ways, for example, being appointed as a high priest, for a character to gain new ones. Most importantly, the cards leave most of the game resolutions to them, while I can observe or sort out the most complicated or dramatic situations.

After about an hour, during which I set the stage for the game and expectations about play and then handed out the folders with some ceremonial bows, we crowned young King Tutankhaten and his queen Ankhsenpaaten and got down to some of the students' important questions. After that, they were off for the weekend, admonished to read at least some of the twenty and more pages in their packet.

I was not disappointed! The conspiracies and palace intrigue clearly multiplied through IM and Facebook over Saturday and Sunday, and the plots that were laid struggled not to burst out into the open over lunches and on the playground. Costumes and accessories began to appear in cubbies, and the eye makeup came out by the end of the week. This past Friday we began the first season of the Ancient Egyptian year, the Season of the Inundation, a time of many festivals since little work could be done on the flooded fields.

Most of the students spent the afternoon meeting their fellow nobles in the flesh; bargaining over if not actually trading cards representing gold, lapis lazuli, beer, and so forth; and getting a sense of the game's operation. A few, however, got down to business. Spies uncovered a few secrets, at least one murder investigation is underway, and plans emerged for the rebuilding of at least some of the temples of Egypt.

I could see the scenery come up in their eyes as they began. They bowed, intoned hymns and formal greetings, and generally began exploring their possibilities. The elder statesman Ay was consolidating his supporters, including his ambitious brother Anen. The queen veered between asking her young king for aid and bullying him in the directions she desired. The nomarchs began organizing the festivals that would carry them through the year to harvest season, when their lucrative lands will bear many valuable goods. More sinister discussions took place in corners and among the bookshelves of the class library.

It was wonderful. They left eager for more time to play and are no doubt plotting new dramas even now!

P.S. I listened to All Things Considered podcast today. Lots of great ideas!

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