Back in 1997 a British writer on the dole published a slim volume of fantasy, a coming of age tale set in a magical academy. The book broke little new ground but the author had a pleasing style and…
Oh, you’ve heard of it? In that case…
The Sorting Hat noticed your steadfastness or intellect and placed you with the Badgers or Ravens. While the foolhardy and power-hungry snipe away, Hufflepuff & Ravenclaw expand their educations against a backdrop of strange mysteries. Comb through Professor Binn's lectures for goblin treachery. Uncover the mirrored secrets of Professor Spout's greenhouses. Turn Professor Flitwick's charms against the entity stalking the library. Face the fangs of Professor Kettleburn's magical creatures. Feel the star-crossed passion of a centaur romance. Battle other schools in the cutthroat Q&A Witches' Bowl. Oh yes, and play Quidditch. All this and more awaits you at Hogwarts Academy of Witchcraft and Wizardry! (Griffindor & Slytherin need not apply.)
1: Analyze the Source Material for the Theme and Beats
In 2008 I designed a set of game mechanics for a Hogwarts game, with the intent of focusing on the two ‘other’ houses of Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws. The game was in the school year immediately after Voldomort’s disappearance (fall of 1982), which gave me a 10 year blank canvas in which everything the players know about the setting is true with risk of running into the child heroes of the books. As the game is specifically modeling the books the key action all takes place at Hogwarts or Diagon Alley and its environs and the PCs are all students, hopefully removing any impetus to act solely to mess with the plot of the later books as the mechanism just doesn’t exist.
The books have a single viewpoint character (very rarely do we see something Harry does not personally witness) who is a New Jersey and a Schwarzschild. That clearly wouldn’t work for a group game, and I don’t want the game to vibe as another child of prophecy. It should just follow the lives of a handful of students at Hogwarts who get pulled into school year-long adventures. That’s right, this is a genre plot driven game and not a “let’s play around in JK Rowlings sandbox” setting – every 3 sessions should end up reading like a Harry Potter novel.
While the books are clearly fantasy they are also – for the first three at least – mysteries and puzzles: the threat is something that has to be investigated and unraveled. The beat structure of the HP books (especially the early ones) is as follows:
· The first quarter is Harry’s “Hideous Roald Dahl Family Life”, with some minor foreshadowing.
· The next quarter is Diagon Alley, the trip to the school and the introduction of a DADA professor, with the outside edge of the problem.
· The third quarter brings the threat into the open while the heroes are distracted by side adventures (such as Norbert) false assumptions (Draco is the Heir of Slytherin!) and bad plans.
· The final quarter starts with an infodump of key data and a relatively rapid resolution of the plotline.
It varies a little bit, but that’s the core of it – the misinformation quarter can take up as much time as needed to have the book end with the school year (CF book 6). Add quidditch matches to taste. For my purposes I just ignored the first quarter of each book, as those are so specific to the story of Harry Potter that trying to include anything like them would feel forced.
According to Rowling the theme of her books is Death, with minor themes of Prejudice and Corruption, and indeed Harry spends a lot of time dealing with those issues. They will certainly be present in these adventures as well, but I will also explore the themes of identity and destiny – what is it that makes you who you are, and can you (or should you) avoid the fate of your family history.
Hogwarts, a Culture
Hogwarts was constructed with a maximum capacity of 1008, or 144 students per year sorted into 4 houses of 36 students a piece. This means each dorm has rooms for 18 boys & 18 girls of each year. The attendance rates at the school have been under that peak for centuries, so the houses have more room. (This year has only 54 students, slightly more than 1/3rd of the maximum.) Each house handles that extra room differently.
The Ravenclaw have 3 rooms per gender, radiating off the central tower stairwell in a double helix, with the girls on one strand and the boys on another. The stairs actually cause headaches in those who aren't able to grasp the shape (Intellect of less than 3) and they have a devil of a time finding the right room. The gender years are connected by shared doors, and the Ravenclaws will spread out - while technically a male Ravenclaw PC has 5 roommates, he actually only shares a physical room with one other student, Ulee Leatherby.a fair of female Ravencalws might share a room, with Beatrice & Barbara the next over and Aldebeon & Aurora two doors down. Students move down the helix per year, so first years climb the most stairs.
The Slytherin have 3 rooms per gender per year, but apportion extra rooms to older students, shoving lower years together to give, for example, the seventh year prefect a private suite. Obviously, the Slytherin change rooms every year to better accommodations. The boys and girls rooms are separated by the common area.
The Gryffindors will put up to 9 students together in a room, with 2 rooms per gender per year. Once they're in that room they stay there for all seven years. Any extra rooms are turned into game rooms, wand practice rooms or similar spaces for the whole house. Boys & girls rooms are accessible by separate stairwells, and the girls stairs are enchanted to not let the boys enter.
Finally, the Hufflepuff have 3 rooms per gender per year. Like the Ravenclaw these rooms are linked by doors, and traditionally the central room is used as a study are and tea nook for that year's students. Pollux & Lochland share their room with Sky, and share the central room with their other three first years. Once in a suite the students stay in it for seven years, and each suite has a long history attached to it - Hufflepuffs will often know the names of their suites former inhabitants (every 7 years of graduates) going back decades, and the previous generations will often mentor their old rooms new inhabitants over the breaks.
The Gryffindor and Hufflepuff houses both have portraits as door guards. The Gryffindor is known just as "the Fat Lady, but Hufflepuff is guarded by a portrait of Professor Fogerty - a long time head of house and old teacher in Defense Against Dark Arts. His image is a severe elderly gentleman with a badger-headed cane. Ravenclaw uses a knocker that asks philosophical riddles, while Slytherin has a secret door with password.
While Quidditch is the official school sport - and the only one that has an impact on house ratings - there are other sporting clubs on campus. This includes a Broom Racing club (slalom courses) and an on again, off again dueling club which is currently off. The Muggle born children do maintain small but persistent football and cricket clubs - these popped back up with force last year but still don't command much respect from those who don't spend time in Muggle society. The clubs will gladly teach the rules to anyone who wants to learn.
Most of the other clubs last only as long as there are professors interested in overseeing them. The school Dramaturgy that stretches back to the Elizabethan era (though it bristles when Caducia points out their club's longevity). It is overseen by Prof. Ogham and Madam Hooch, who makes up for her own lack of on stage talent with a considerable flair for staging. The school does have a full theater on one of the lower levels.
The school's chorus has an equally long history, and is currently overseen by Professor Flitwick. The chorus has bi-annual concerts (including this year) with Green-law & Glasscastle, which helps the chorus, as no group of teachers wants to be the ones that let the centuries old event die. Flitwick has ambitions for a chamber music club, but with 7/8ths of his band graduating in the last two years the band is, at the moment, him and Daisy Fontaine. But he remains hopeful.
Speaking of Glasscastle & Greenlaw, those "lesser" academies produce teams for the bi-annual "Witches Bowl", which is held in the years opposite the choral events. The Witches Bowl is a cutthroat trivia event that draws contestants mostly from Ravenclaw and Huffle-puff. While not part of the house cup, professors find reasons to award the Hogwarts team points if they win.
A Wizards Chess club also covers Napoleonic era wargames, which also use animated pieces that will argue with their orders. Slytherin have a tendency to dominate in these, as they are best able to direct the troops, but all bets are off when a Hufflepuff general controls the Russian Front! Professor Lippershey over-sees this club, which usually meets at late hours to accommodate the astronomy professor's odd schedule. There are tales of the club's 1/10th size Waterloo battle four years ago - apparently not to be repeated.
There is a "Magick" club for those who practice their arts with maximal pretension. It is populated by Raven-claw & Slytherin who are skilled but, let's face it, full of themselves. It is overseen by Professor Vector, with some help from Professor Trelawney.
While there is no official school band there are many unofficial ones as musically inclined students aim to impress their fellows with renditions of the latest tunes or old classics. These do not have official sanction but hardly need it, as most fail to last even a term. Six years ago the band "The Yarrow Sticks" went on to fame and fortune, but the best most can hope for is some free pub food and some dates for providing the music.
Likewise, there are dozens of unofficial school clubs, which form and dissolve as clusters of students declare an interest in a topic: Regency era literature, Muggle TV shows, trading & collecting, Chocolate Frog cards, you name it. The main stumbling blocks for them is the 9:00 curfew to the dorms unless visiting a sanctioned club with a professor supervising them. Many older students are limited in that they already have advanced classes in the evening (I realized that the 5 lower years in 4 houses eat up almost all the daytime hours for professors of the major classes. Hence, 6th & 7th years must have late afternoon or evening classes in charms, potions, etc.). As a result, small clubs tend to be segregated by ages or house, which limits their longevity.
Outside of any clubs that they oversee, the advanced studies professors (such as Professor Plain or Professor Ogham) have minimal contact with first year students. While the professors in the major classes have more duties, the advanced studies professors have more time for research, and will occasionally call on 3rd+ years, but more often 6th and 7th years, to help them with that research. Professor Kettleburn does have a moderately large group of 3rd+ years who assist he and Hagrid in caring for the magical creatures on campus.