Saturday, April 18, 2015

Adventures in a World of Magic

If you've been reading the blog, or know me even remotely well, you'll know that I love Harry Potter. My love of Harry Potter has lead me to ask many times "why is there no Harry Potter roleplaying game?" 

My pursuit of Harry Potter as a game has seen me look into the license many, many times, and a couple of times it has seemed like it could happen - talking to Warner Bros. and everything. But alas, it was not to be. 

I'm still convinced that a Harry Potter RPG is a great idea, but I think it has a couple of hurdles to get over - hurdles that could be tackled by getting the right message to the right people. 

The first hurdle is explaining what roleplaying games are - or more importantly, what roleplaying games are now and how amazing they can be.

Roleplaying Games - Using Your Imagination
Envelopes for Harry Potter Book Night 2015
at Waterstones, Norwich.

One of the truly magical things about Harry Potter is that it got kids reading again. Not only were kids reading, they wanted to read. I worked in a bookstore for seven years, and the greatest and most exciting experiences there were Potter book launches - the kids in their hundreds, dressed up for the midnight launch. The first one I worked we even had owls in the shop during the day. The atmosphere on the nights was amazing. 

What a Harry Potter RPG could do on top of getting kids reading, is get kids using their imagination in a truly social environment. So much of our time is spent staring at screens, whether these are TVs, our phones or computers, interacting with people via texts or messages, or even strange disembodied voices from the other side of the country telling us how bad our gaming skills are. 

Tabletop roleplaying games have the advantage of getting people together, face to face, sitting across the table and interacting. 

I've mentioned elsewhere on my blog that I got my first job in the "real world" due to playing Dungeons and Dragons - the boss interviewing me had been a gamer, and knew that it meant that I could communicate, work in a team, formulate courses of action, and (handily enough as it was a cartography job) could draw maps.

Dungeons and Dragons always has this social stigma associated to it - the image of grown men of generous proportions sitting in their basements. 

But going to a gaming convention these days, times have changed. There are far more women gamers (often more than men), and more and more kids playing. Boardgaming has become cool and popular again, and families are getting away from sitting in front of the TV and gathering around the table to play a game on a regular basis.

It's a great time for games, and a great time for roleplaying gaming.

The great thing about tabletop roleplaying is that it really stretches the imagination. Rather than being limited to the options of a videogame, RPGs allow your characters to do anything. You create your own stories, create characters with real depth and meaning, and work as a team together - not competing against each other - but together, creating your own stories and battling evil. 

The first hurdle in getting a Harry Potter RPG to be approved by J K Rowling and Warner Bros. would be to show them that roleplaying isn't what the stereotypes portray - certainly not any more. RPGs can be valuable social experiences that fuel the imagination and are perfect for kids and adults alike.

Creating Your Own Stories

The second great hurdle, and certainly one that I think is one of the tallest hurdles to overcome, is the concept of "creating your own stories", as we mentioned before.

Creating such a detailed and magical world, as is the world of Harry Potter, it's understandable to be protective of it. The events of the books are set in stone, and (despite being able to wander about and do strange things in the video games) you wouldn't want people playing Harry, Ron and Hermione and changing the events of the books.

However, if you set a game outside of the books, after the Battle of Hogwarts, but before the years when Harry and Ginny's children attend, that means the events of the books are held fairly sacred.

But the great thing about tabletop roleplaying games is that the stories you tell in the games, the adventures you play, they are yours and stay at the table. It's not like your stories are suddenly part of the official world. They are purely your own.

West End Games'
Star Wars RPG
A great example of how this works is Star Wars. There have been multiple roleplaying games based upon Star Wars (West End Games' one is my personal favourite, but there have also been ones by Wizards of the Coast, and most recently from Fantasy Flight). They allow you to play characters in the Star Wars universe, scoundrels, rebels, pilots, Jedi and more, throughout the many eras of the Star Wars history... but they never changed the Star Wars movies, they didn't become "canon", and they didn't ruin anything. 

Adventures were published for them, and some have been incredibly successful. But they're not part of the Star Wars universe outside of sitting around your dining room table, and in your imagination. The source material is incredibly safe.

For Harry Potter, other schools of witchcraft and wizardry could be created, making the events and characters at Hogwarts even safer, rather like the nameless schools that appear around the world in the PS3 video game "Book of Spells".

Of course, exclusive content, and fact checking direct from J K Rowling would be the ultimate way to go. It would be similar to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG from Eden Studios. When we were working on the supplements to the game we needed the full names of characters that only had first names in the series (Faith and Kendra). Eden asked Fox, and Fox asked Joss Whedon who provided the surnames for the characters (Lehane and Young, respectively), which have now become official in books and comics since.

Communication to the Ministry

Those, I see, are the biggest hurdles. Once you get over the stigma of roleplaying, and the care required for playing in J K Rowling's world - knowing that the game would be great and positive for kids, and wouldn't harm the world of Harry Potter, it's plain to see that a Harry Potter roleplaying game would be an awesome thing.

How would it be done?

The keys to a great Harry Potter RPG would be twofold - keeping it quick, simple and easy so that the game is fast to play, quick and easy to pick up for new players, and doesn't get bogged down in rules that would slow down what Harry Potter is all about: storytelling. And secondly, creating a game that is true to the feel of Harry Potter's world. 

Over the years, as I mentioned before, I'd planned and plotted a Harry Potter RPG many times in the past. I'd even recruited my awesome graphic design friend Will Brooks to put together samples of possible designs for one of the book's layouts.

First attempt at layout for the Students' Book for Harry Potter: Adventures in a Magical World
(c) David F. Chapman and Will Brooks
The first version was trying to be busy, a little like the amazing Film Wizardry book (which, I have to confess, we own four copies of...). C'mon, seriously... if you haven't looked at that book, it's awesome. The iBook for it is just as amazing, as the images are animated, just like reading a copy of the Daily Prophet.

A clearer approach was taken for a second attempt, swaying away from the movie images. 

Second attempt at layout for Students' Book for Harry Potter: Adventures in a Magical World
(c) David F. Chapman and Will Brooks
Of course, pretty pictures do not give any indication of what the game would be like. I went into great detail with a potential pitch for what the main game would be like, as well as possible supplements.

A pitch that I'll share with you next post.

(to be continued...)

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