You know how any time there’s a new phenomenon popular with children, there’s always some group of nutjob adults who make a scene about how it’s corrupting the youth? They’re always kinda funny when they go on TV and rant about how “pokemon” is jap-talk for pocket monsters, and monsters are like demons, ergo the pokemons are subtle attempts by the devil to get into the pockets of our children. It’s less funny when you’re a child and those nutjobs are your parents.
A lot of stuff was verboten for me as a kid, ostensibly because of demonic influence. Sometimes I cared enough to subvert those bans, as I did when I started playing D&D in secret. But other times I didn’t want to risk it. And that’s how I made it to the venerable age of 26 without exploring a single piece of Harry Potter media. It’s really too bad, actually, since I was 11 years old when the first book was released in the U.S. Same age as the series’ eponymous protagonist.
Over the years I’ve seen enough parodies of it that I became thoroughly familiar with the source material, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I decided to sit down and marathon the films and see what I’d been missing. I’ll spare you any review, since I’m pretty sure I was the last person on earth who hadn’t seen them. I will say, though, that I was surprised that they actually lived up to the hype. After a lifetime of hearing about how great this story was, I honestly did not expect to like it very much. But 2 minutes into the movie I felt like a kid again. It was like watching Star Wars for the first time. I was captivated, and plowed my way through the first 3 films in a single day, and all 7 by the end of the week. I got my hands on the books 3 days ago, and I’m halfway through the second one already.
And because I’m me, discovering such an interesting world naturally led to thoughts of what a marvelous tabletop game it would make.
Hogwarts is basically a dungeon-hub. It’s a huge, intelligent castle with countless secrets to explore. In the Philosopher’s stone the children must sneak past a three headed dog, escape from a large entangling plant, find a door key in a room filled with hundreds of flying keys, play a deadly game of life-sized chess, solve a riddle to discover which potions will protect them and which will kill them, and finally confront an evil wizard, all in pursuit of a magical treasure. That sounds a lot like D&D to me. It’s the same in the second book, where the children must find a well-hidden secret passage, leading into a complex of caves, where they eventually encounter and fight a basilisk.
It doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate from these starting points. If there is one chamber of secrets, why not twenty? Hogwarts is a megadungeon, and you need to escape from its depths by the end of every session, because otherwise you’ll miss class.
Here’s what I would propose. Players start as first year students. Every student is a magic user of course, but some class-like distinction could be made by allowing the players to sort themselves into one of the school’s four houses. A player in Gryffindor, for example, might have bonuses against fear effects. Whilst a kid in Ravenclaw might be allowed a bardic-lore style check for knowing any random piece of information the party needs. Perhaps further class distinctions could be gained by the choices the player makes in which classes they will take. At the start of the year they choose the classes they’ll attend between dungeon-delving sessions, and at the end of the year they’ve gained some bonus or ability from that course.
Magic would be particularly fun, since magic words are such a large part of the source material. Spells could be divided into “spell levels,” representing the years in which they would be taught to students. There is no limit on the number of spells which can be cast per day, or how many times a spell could be cast. HOWEVER, in order to cast a spell, the player must be able to recite the proper magic words. No magic notes would be allowed at the table, forcing the player to actually keep the spells in their head. (Functionally, a no-notes rule would be impossible to enforce. But in the spirit of fun, I think most players would acquiesce).
Rather than progressing according to experience, players would progress by years of education. In lieu of gold, magic items and “house points” would be awarded for successful adventures.
I can’t be the first person who thought of this, right?