Small Spells – A Discussion of Scope for “Potter-ville”

English: Alternate coat of arms of Hogwarts sc...

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From small spells do mighty enchanters grow.

So Harry Potter was the winner of the recent poll I held deciding on the next Cortex Plus project (although it was tied with Battlestar at one point, so that may well be the next property I look at). So now I find myself considering what aspect of Hogwarts life to portray in the RPG.  I identify two potential “genre” in the books, and they both present different options and challenges for accurate representation in a game.

The Happiest Days of Your Life (and Other Fairy Tales)

Underpinning the Harry Potter series is a story about boarding school life: the first time away from home, the bullies, the friendships, and the lessons learned, not always inside of classrooms.   Harry Potter obviously adds magic and fantasy on top of the elements used by writers such as Enid Blyton (not to mention more modern sensibilities), but it retains a core idea of factions, lasting bonds of love and friendship, shifting allegiances, animosity of some teachers and mutual respect with others.  In fact, it’s pretty much a setting that the Smallvile RPG was designed to run!  The High School Yearbook even has a brief discussion on running a magic boarding school session.

If people want to take on the roles of teachers and headmasters alongside students, or if players want to immerse themselves in Harry versus Draco style antagonism, Smallville would be the sort of system we’d want to run.  We could even get away with doing little more than writing up some new Distinctions, Assets, and Abilities to get a pretty close representation, but we’d need a little further tweaking of the rules to really capture the essence of Hogwarts.

But there is another option for a Harry Potter game: the boarding school setting is really just background colour to a more traditional hero’s journey, which prominently comes to the fore at the conclusion of each book in the series.  Indeed, Deathly Hallows pretty much dispenses with the background from the opening to plunge our heroic trio into the quest from the onset.

Putting the “Odd” in “Odyssey”

If your group wants to play something akin to the books, with a small group of close-knit friends facing adversity of Great Evil, the Smallville rules on their own are probably not the most appropriate; we’d possibly be better served looking towards a more adventure-orientated “flavour” of Cortex Plus such as the upcoming Dragon Brigade.

If we adapted this genre and what we’ve seen of Dragon Brigade‘s version of the rules, players wouldn’t as likely want to take on the roles of Dumbledore, Draco, or Lupin: for an epic journey, such characters are best suited to remain in the hands of the Grand Mugwump (yes, I know “Supreme Mugwump” is more appropriate to the books, but this way we maintain a GM abbreviation).

Making a Decision

So, which style shall we look at for our Cortex Plus adaptation of Harry Potter: school drama or heroic quest?  What’s that I hear you cry?  “Why don’t you cover both styles in two separate but related systems, you’re such a glutton for that type of punishment?”  Well, okay then, although I have to say, you all sound an awful lot like the voices in my head…

About craggle

Despite being born tone deaf in one ear, Craig has risen above his disadvantage to achieve the lofty position of spending most of his free time mucking around on the Internet, tinkering with RPG rules, and failing on at least seven occasions to finish writing a novel.
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2 Responses to Small Spells – A Discussion of Scope for “Potter-ville”

  1. Henry Jones says:

    It really depends which stage of the Harry Potter series you want to do, doesn’t it? In the early books school goings-on play a hugely important role, whereas the personal growth lessons are just handed out at the end. The fourth book is the pivot to an heroic epic, after which point actual school activities take a back seat to fighting evil. I think the former is more likely to result in a unique game experience, whereas the latter sounds an awful lot like Ars Magica, IMO.

    • craggle says:

      I’d even say that the early books are fairly consistent with the “heroic epic” formula from the point of view of Harry, Ron, and Hermione with the school activities and relationships being more of a strong background setting and colourful backdrop. That said, I suspect that a lot of people looking to play a Harry Potter RPG would be looking more to emulate the day-to-day life of being a Hogwarts student and the drama involved in that. As such, Smallville would be a very good fit for such play and will tend to be the area of adaptation that I look at first while looking at these hacks of Cortex Plus.

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