Why Didn't Harry Potter Change the Game?

Fantasy is now much more mainstream, so it's easy to forget how influential the debut of the Harry Potter franchise was on the genre. And yet despite the blockbuster success of the franchise we never got an official Harry Potter tabletop role-playing game -- for Dungeons & Dragons or any other system.

harrypotter.jpg
[h=3]Yes, Harry Potter Was a Big Deal[/h]Author J.K. Rowling's tale of a young boy who would fulfill his destiny at a school for wizards sent shockwaves through the book publishing industry when it debuted. Kids started reading again, and adults read along with them. The numbers give a sense of scale to the enormous impact the Harry Potter series had on publishing, movies, and fantasy worlds in general.

To date, the book series has sold over 160 million copies, grossing $7.7 billion. The movies actually performed worse than the books, grossing $7.2 billion so far. It made Rowling a billionaire and the actor who played Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, a millionaire. In addition to the books and movies, the franchise generated $7.3 billion in games and toys. All told, the franchise is estimated to be valued at roughly $25 billion.

D&D and Harry Potter have quite a bit in common. They both systemize magical systems, categorize fantastical creatures, and gradually advance the characters' power throughout the series. And yet there was never a Harry Potter role-playing game. Why not?
[h=3]Harry Sneaks In[/h]There's are certainly benefits to being affiliated with the Harry Potter franchise. Universal Studios' Orlando theme park's attendance surged 30% when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in 2010. A Harry Potter-branded tabletop RPG would like experience a similar sales bump from the name affiliation alone.

There were tabletop gaming attempts to ride the Potter fandom. Redhurst: Academy of Magic, written by Matt Forbeck, applied D20 rules to a Harry Potter-esque school setting, complete with a traitorous spy scribbling in the margins:
REDHURST ACADEMY OF MAGIC is a world of a traveling wizards' school. You are one of its students set to learn about the wonderful world of magic and explore the world under the tutelage of some of the finest arcane minds in the Known Realms. Redhurst is a magical wondrous place where the surreal and mundane share the same table, and the fantastic is in every step of the grounds, every brick of the walls, and every classroom.
There is a widely-spread rumor that J.K. Rowling was not interested in a role-playing game, which is sourced to Ryan Dancey, then VP at Wizards of the Coast:
I’m starting to see a lot of Harry Potter-related merchandise — a lot of it decidedly tacky — but one thing we’ll apparently never see is a Harry Potter role playing game. According to Wizards of the Coast’s Ryan Dancey, series author J.K. Rowling “has flatly stated that she’ll never approve a role playing game in any format.” That’s okay. People will just go on making their own Potter RPGs online.
Wizards of the Coast was undeterred and launched their own line of hardcover books inspired by Rowling's stories, including A Practical Guide to Wizardry:
How do you make a magic wand? Why does a wizard wear robes? What goes into a potion of invisibility? Arch Mage Lowadar invites you to join his school for talented young wizards and explore the magical world of wizardry. In this fully illustrated guide, readers will learn all about what it takes to become a great wizard--from the gear and magic items you need to the secrets of writing your own spells in the language of magic.
The book is a fascinating take on what might have been. It tweaks some elements of D&D (magic items are required to navigate the school and quite common, wands are a core implement for every wizard) and details other elements of spellcasting that have never been officially codified, including detailed descriptions of how verbal (actual phrases along with a pronunciation guide), somatic (drawings of wand gestures), and material components work.

David F. Chapman recently pitched a Harry Potter RPG to Warner Bros. It didn't get as far as he hoped:
I originally wrote most of the above posts a couple of years ago, shortly after we'd started talking to Warner Bros. about the possibility of doing a game, and only getting so far (it wasn't something they were considering at the time). Since then, the thoughts of a Harry Potter RPG have always been lingering in my mind. However, recently (and hence the new post) there was the announcement on Pottermore that Warner Bros. Interactive had launched a new gaming division called Portkey Games. A new division whose only purpose is to develop mobile and console games in the Wizarding World.
The promise of a RPG-like world will be realized this year.
[h=3]A Mobile "RPG"[/h]Potter fans will finally get a role-playing game in the form of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, a mobile RPG developed by Jam City in partnership with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment's Portkey Games:
In “Hogwarts Mystery,” players progress through their years at Hogwarts, participating in the magical classes and activities Potterheads have come to love, including Defence Against the Dark Arts, Potions, and Duelling Club. The game is actually set in the 1980s — before Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and friends have matriculated at the wizarding academy — although according to WB and Jam City, Albus Dumbledore and most of the iconic Hogwarts professors will appear in the game.
Given the enormous amount of enthusiasm and homebrewed role-playing games available on the Internet, it seems Rowling is finally coming around to the idea of approving a role-playing game in SOME formats. But even if there never is an official RPG, the franchise's influence is felt in the spread of Potter fandom, who are surely part of the renewed interested in D&D.
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Rygar

Explorer
Things that are jumping out at me in this article...

"
Author J.K. Rowling's tale of a young boy who would fulfill his destiny at a school for wizards sent shockwaves through the book publishing industry when it debuted.
" - Need some evidence of this statement. I suspect that when it debuted there were no lines in the stores or people waiting impatiently for the release. In fact, I suspect that when it debuted no one even knew about it.

"
Kids started reading again, and adults read along with them.
" - Going to need evidence that children and adults no longer read books until Harry Potter debuted.

"
The movies actually performed worse than the books, grossing $7.2 billion so far" - False statement, ignores streaming.

"
They both systemize magical systems, categorize fantastical creatures, and gradually advance the characters' power throughout the series.
" - They went to school. That's a little bit different than D&D, they didn't gain levels, they passed tests and then went and took more classes.

"
A Harry Potter-branded tabletop RPG would like experience a similar sales bump from the name affiliation alone.
" - Zero evidence. Pure conjecture. Just because amusement parks jumped 30% doesn't mean book sales would. The Star Wars Experience isn't going to boost Star Wars RPG sales by 30% because Disney will see more attendees.

"
Given the enormous amount of enthusiasm and
homebrewed role-playing games
available on the Internet
" - Need evidence of this. The statement "enormous" is made, and so requires quantification. Because let's be honest, it's probably a very small number of people. I'm sure if we google Twilight or any other popular property we'll get the same results.

"
But even if there never is an official RPG, the franchise's influence is felt in the spread of Potter fandom, who are surely part of the
renewed interested in D&D
.
" - So all of these people wanted to play an RPG, but could not find the 3rd edition D&D books, 4th edition D&D books, or Pathfinder books, and just suddenly discovered D&D now? Years after the last Harry Potter book and movie were released? I think we can pretty definitively say that Harry Potter had nothing to do with D&D's sales increasing, because it's going to be incredibly hard to explain why at the peak of Harry Potter's popularity no one wanted to play RPG's but now that it's waning suddenly Harry Potter fans are all buying D&D.
 

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Celebrim

Legend
In order to run games for my daughters, I adapted SIPS (http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?468011-The-Simple-Imaginative-Play-System-(SIPS)) to Harry Potter by swapping out the generic super-power rule for a simple magic system.

As a system, I suppose it works OK, but one thing you run into when you try to run 'Harry Potter' is that Rawlings - for all her talent as a story-teller - is a flat out lousy world builder. Sure, she's creative and detailed oriented, but all of that is focused on serving the purpose of the narrative. The world she creates to serve the narrative by and large doesn't merit close inspection because it rather stops making sense if you think about it and try to organize it into some coherent logical world to play in.

I'm ok with her not associating herself closely with fantasy, because it's not really fantasy that she's good at. The oeuvre that she's actually good at is mystery, and as such, to tell a Potterverse story well you have to tell a good mystery. Anything you could run Agatha Christy stories in, you could probably run Harry Potter in, and GUMSHOE with a spell system tacked on would probably work pretty well indeed.
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
You'd be better off with a different system if you want to emulate the books/movies. Something with a spell failure chance, as well as a potentially unlimited spellcasting as a basic structural element.

D&D has unlimited cantrips and rituals.

That seems enough to emulate most of the Potterverse.



D&D can even emulate spell failure by various mechanics that boost spell power at the price of risk of failure or random effects.



The only thing D&D fails to do well is to emulate the mostly nonlethal adventures. But nonlethal challenges is something that D&D needs to get better at anyway.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
If there would be a D&D Potter-esque setting

− magical, modern, whimsical, with mostly nonlethal challenges and adventures −

I would be all over that!
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
given how much she is okay with fan fiction I'm surprised she won't approve of an RPG, though I guess things are different when it comes to making official material (I suppose she also doesn't want to take the time to flesh out the universe to the level of detail needed for an RPG).

also what's with the comparisons to D&D? of course it wouldn't be like D&D, doesn't make it any less fun. Harry Potter is the one franchise that I'm baffled never got the ttrpg treatment, the rpg rennaisance would have come years sooner if it got one.
 


talien

Community Supporter
D&D has unlimited cantrips and rituals.

That seems enough to emulate most of the Potterverse.



D&D can even emulate spell failure by various mechanics that boost spell power at the price of risk of failure or random effects.



The only thing D&D fails to do well is to emulate the mostly nonlethal adventures. But nonlethal challenges is something that D&D needs to get better at anyway.

Here's the thing: Harry Potter is lethal. The risk is real -- as the movies progress, the risk of bodily harm finally becomes enough of a concern that the goverment gets involved -- but there are always wizards behind the scenes keeping them safe. Or to put it another way, there's always an adult claiming, "they were never really in danger all along!"


But yeah, people die in the Potter books.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Fate and Fate Accelerated (which even has a Harry Potter-inspired sample character) would probably be one of the better systems to run a Harry Potter game. Everyone simply does magic in the setting. And you could limit the known magic by including your character's academic year in your aspect. You could create your own skill list based on the varieties of magic or simply go wild with FAE's approaches.
 

JK Rowling is a bit prissy when it comes to fantasy as a genre. She was notably rebuked by Terry Pratchett** after she wrote some article complaining of her embarrassment of being associated with the genre, and it's not a stretch that the boy dominated fantasy roleplaying hobby isn't something she wanted to be associated with either.

That's my understanding as well. Rowling has a personal distaste for the cultural associations of RPGs (let's be honest - D&D), and doesn't want her property to be part of it.

However, I don't know how much of a lost opportunity this really was. The Song of Ice and Fire RPG hasn't exactly, er, set the world on fire, has it? Also, the Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle cooperative game isn't far off an RPG and it's still a niche game despite the IP.
 


MarkB

Legend
Fate and Fate Accelerated (which even has a Harry Potter-inspired sample character) would probably be one of the better systems to run a Harry Potter game. Everyone simply does magic in the setting. And you could limit the known magic by including your character's academic year in your aspect. You could create your own skill list based on the varieties of magic or simply go wild with FAE's approaches.

Or if you want something a little more codified, start from Dresden Files Accelerated and adapt it as needed.
 

Oh, how Sir Terry is missed:

“His full response to Rowling's admission that she did not think Harry Potter was fantasy as she was writing it, was: "I would have thought that the wizards, witches, trolls, unicorns, hidden worlds, jumping chocolate frogs, owl mail, magic food, ghosts, broomsticks and spells would have given her a clue?"”


JK Rowling is a bit prissy when it comes to fantasy as a genre. She was notably rebuked by Terry Pratchett** after she wrote some article complaining of her embarrassment of being associated with the genre...

**Link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4732385.stm
 

I have never seen Harry Potter as a good fit for a traditional TTRPG. What would work better would be adapting LARP rules to the Potter universe. Maybe the system from White Wolf or some other system I have not tried. Much more flexible and everyone can dress up in their Hogwarts gear and run around with their wands. Something like this could be made as lethal or non-lethal as desired.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I'm not sure why she would be opposed to a Harry Potter RPG, given that she doesn't appear to have a problem to grant licenses for board games:
https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeksearch.php?action=search&objecttype=boardgame&q=harry+potter&B1=Go

Some of it might have to do with the shallowness of board games (with respect to the IP). Clue and UNO are fundamentally the same game they always are - just with Harry Potterian art and theming. An RPG's need for source material pretty much requires it to be defined by someone - either Jo Rowling herself or someone else. And, since it would pretty much have to be the latter, they'd have to convince her to give up some of the authority over her setting. She might be willing to allow a screenwriter to adapt, but that's a pretty big investment with big resources behind it and with a huge payoff in reaching a wider audience. RPGs, not so much.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Its her IP and I don't think a Harry Potter RPG would bring in the masses, it might appeal to people who like RPGs and Harry Potter.

Other authors also tend to mess things up and her IP is bigger than the others so there is that to consider.
 

I think the idea of having some academic institution to centre all magical characters on is perfectly doable in roleplaying, and indeed has been done in games like Ars Magica and others. The IP is one thing but, if you are like me, you can just magpie ideas from lots of sources, including Harry Potter, and just stick them in your own settings.
 


Cergorach

The Laughing One
The Tolkien franchise has a revenue of around $20 billion according to this source: https://www.statisticbrain.com/lord-of-the-rings-total-franchise-revenue/

MERP was 1984 til 2000
Decipher was 2002 to 2006
Cubile 7 was 2011 till now

The 5 year gap isn't surprising, I suspect that the license fee demand by that time was far larger then market demand for a LotR RPG, especially when you need to beat MERP for material. Decipher did a movie RPG imho, not bad, but not what I would play...

When the author of an IP doesn't want to sell the license for a RPG or demands too much money, there is not much you can do about it...
 

The real problem is the setting. There's no there there. Yes, there are examples of several spells that wands facilitate. And there are a handful of well-known potions. But what is the magic system? How does it work? What causes a spell to fail? The story only shows as much magic as the story being told tells. The world is the same way. There's hogwarts, the ministry, a few houses, and a few places mentioned. But what is the wizarding world really like? What percentage of the population are wizards? What other wizards only industries are there? What does the average wizard adult do for a living?

It would require the RPG writers to extrapolate a lot of new material. And JKR, even if she allowed them to write it, she could release a new book that invalidated it in an instant.
 

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