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.

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[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

Celebrim

Legend
It would require the RPG writers to extrapolate a lot of new material.

It's worse than that. The setting contains inherent contradictions.

Try answering questions like this:

1) How many children attend Hogwarts? Given that we are told virtually every wizard child attends the school, how large therefore is the entire wizarding population of Great Britain?
2) Reconcile the answer in #1 with the number of professional quidditch teams present in England.

You can just keep going in that vein, but there are I think even deeper problems.

Why does anyone even like Quidditch anyway? It's a terrible sport both as a player and a spectator. It's impossible to imagine the sport surviving in its current form much less evolving to reach its current form. It is interesting only as a single player contest between Seekers from the perspective of the Seeker - which not surprisingly is the way that the sport is almost entirely presented. I think she realizes how bad a choice this is from a story telling perspective at some point, and tries to give the sport some semblance of depth, but it's never really believable nor is it ever particularly gamable in the sense of the party playing quidditch together and everyone enjoying spotlight.

The problem that we have with Rawlings from a gaming perspective is that her world doesn't really work from either a game perspective or a simulation perspective. Don't ask how anything works. Everything exists and happens to advance a narrative. The fantasy elements free her from needing to do any research, and empower her Marty Stu protagonist in escapist wish fulfillment. I'm not running her down, she's up there with Victor Hugo in terms of plotting out a story and are writing technique is pretty solid as well, but it's a pretty lousy basis for an RPG and certainly a traditional RPG. Consider the narratives relationship with time. Usually like a third of the book occurs in the first week of school, and then the rest of the book occurs over the course of say 10 evenly spaced out days during the school year. Those are the only days that Harry has any agency, and the rest of the time he's doing 'boring stuff' like going to school. To capture that sort of pacing, the GM has to take control of the story and skip to the bangs. But that means that the player only has agency when the GM says he does. You have a lot of pacing decisions that amount to, "Three weeks go by and you aren't able to do much of anything because you are too busy with classes. Then one day during potions..."

I've enjoyed at times running a 'Hogwarts' based game, but I'd not be anxious to do it if I didn't have some young Potterheads that cared about it.
 

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Jhaelen

First Post
Why does anyone even like Quidditch anyway?
I agree about that one, at least. The Quidditch rules make very little sense. I doubt it could have survived as a popular sport.
But I don't think there's more that needs to be extrapolated from her setting than from comparable novel series that have already been converted into RPGs. If everything about a setting needed to make sense, we'd never have seen a Star Wars RPG!
 

Age of Fable

First Post
D&D was very much based on the fantasy that its creators liked, with reluctant recognition of the popularity of Lord of the Rings. So, for example, there are no Narnian-style talking animals. Witches are a much more common trope than druids, but there are druids rather than witches, apparently because druids happened to appeal to Dennis Sustare (who created the druid class).

Fantasy roleplaying has become a style in itself, so that later editions of D&D are based on earlier editions of D&D rather than on the popular culture of the time. For example, vampire characters weren't a core option in the 90s (even though there was a popular RPG that arguably existed because vampires weren't an option in D&D).

Role-playing covers tend to look like comics or fantasy paperbacks from the 70s (painted action scenes), rather than like contemporary fantasy novels (which tend towards photos of individual characters, or minimalist symbols).
 
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Aldarc

Legend
Why does anyone even like Quidditch anyway? It's a terrible sport both as a player and a spectator. It's impossible to imagine the sport surviving in its current form much less evolving to reach its current form.
I agree about that one, at least. The Quidditch rules make very little sense. I doubt it could have survived as a popular sport.
I'm fairly certain that was intentional on her part. Keep in mind that she came from a land that gave the world cricket, rugby, field hockey, and tennis. These games can be fun, but it's fairly clear that quidditch is partially a conglomerate parody of these games. It's a nonsensical game as imagined by a non-sport lover surrounded by these English sports.
 

MarkB

Legend
Quidditch's rules are perfectly sensible by general sporting standards, so long as you completely ditch everything about Seekers.
 

It's worse than that. The setting contains inherent contradictions.

I did say that there's no there there. Everything exists to serve the narrative. It's almost impossible to write in that manner and not create contradictions.

And Quiddich exists because "rule of cool": the protagonist is on a flying broom!
 

Celebrim

Legend
But I don't think there's more that needs to be extrapolated from her setting than from comparable novel series that have already been converted into RPGs. If everything about a setting needed to make sense, we'd never have seen a Star Wars RPG!

I completely disagree. The Star Wars setting is not realistic and is clearly a fantasy setting rather than hard science fiction. But you can play in a setting that isn't realistic as long as it coherent and in particular coherent between the margins, in the unexplored space implied by the story. Up until the release of 'The Force Awakens' and 'The Last Jedi' Star Wars was a coherent setting, and particularly coherent in the expanded universe (since so much of Star Wars was basically created from the RPG version of the universe). The setting was vastly more coherent than its space fantasy competitor 'Star Trek', which was itself at least coherent enough to play a game in as something other than 'Captain Kirk'.

I'm fairly certain that was intentional on her part. Keep in mind that she came from a land that gave the world cricket, rugby, field hockey, and tennis. These games can be fun, but it's fairly clear that quidditch is partially a conglomerate parody of these games. It's a nonsensical game as imagined by a non-sport lover surrounded by these English sports.

I think it was intentional on her part in a sense, but not for the reason you give. Rather it's intentional in the sense that she didn't give a flying flip about how sensible it was as a game when she introduced it in book one, but she had a very definite intention in creating it. The parody elements of the game, and in particular how the wizarding world's love of quiddith parallels the English love of 'futball', were added to the series in later books and aren't I think really a big part of the game's initial conception. The entire structure of quidditch and everything in it was designed to highlight Harry's role as 'the chosen one' and reinforce the initial book one story of an ordinary kid who had seemingly lost in the lottery of life learning that in fact he was a lottery winner - independent, rich, famous, talented, and gifted with seemingly everything a boy could want. The story doesn't stay there, but when quidditch is first introduced it's a sport for an unathletic slightly nerdy kid with glasses to excel in and nothing else. But, that game is clearly nonsensical and clearly created by someone with no real interest in sports or games.

Quidditch's rules are perfectly sensible by general sporting standards, so long as you completely ditch everything about Seekers.

Correct. The seeker ruins the game and turns a team sport into an individual sport. Because the Seeker scores the preponderance of the points, in any roughly evenly matched group, the team wins who's seeker wins. When the game is introduced, Rawlings literally has the team captain say this. That makes sense from the perspective of the zero to hero narrative of the first book, but doesn't make a lick of sense from the perspective of a team captain who wants to play a sport that he himself knows he's largely irrelevant in. Worse, it makes the game have no predictable length. The seeker is the game's clock. So why not just have seeker vs. seeker contests? Well, because even as a contest between seekers, outside of the artificial drama of a narrative, a seeker vs. seeker contest would be as much or more about luck as anything else. Any attempt to control luck, would make it basically Olympic cycling at best. I mean maybe if grabbing the snitch scored 20 points, and it was a first to three sort of thing that ended the game, then that would sort of make sense. But in the story world, we are told that quidditch didn't really take off until the introduction of the seeker/golden snitch and the current 100 point all or nothing rules. We're told that the seeker is what made the game so popular. Again, that makes sense for reinforcing the zero to hero narrative, but doesn't make the slightest bit of sense in terms of how a group of people on a team would evolve the rules to make everyone feel like they are participating in a sport, or in terms of how fans of a sport would demand drama in their sport.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I completely disagree. The Star Wars setting is not realistic and is clearly a fantasy setting rather than hard science fiction. But you can play in a setting that isn't realistic as long as it coherent and in particular coherent between the margins, in the unexplored space implied by the story. Up until the release of 'The Force Awakens' and 'The Last Jedi' Star Wars was a coherent setting, and particularly coherent in the expanded universe (since so much of Star Wars was basically created from the RPG version of the universe).

Clearly, we have different definitions of "coherent".
 

Aldarc

Legend
I think it was intentional on her part in a sense, but not for the reason you give. Rather it's intentional in the sense that she didn't give a flying flip about how sensible it was as a game when she introduced it in book one, but she had a very definite intention in creating it.
I'm not sure that your assertion is true, but it's not important enough of a matter to debate.
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
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.

I get that, in Potterverse the challenges are dangerous.

The difference is, Harry Potter is gaining ‘experience points’ by overcoming challenges, rather than by the number of creatures that Harry Potter kills.

In D&D, it is possible to advance levels nonlethally, but D&D does this less well.



I want D&D to be excellent for nonlethal advancement, anyway.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Not unlimited numbers - unlimted uses of the 1-8 known cantrips one might have from 1 or 2 classesCertainly nothing like the way it works in the books.

I suspect the upcoming Psion class can model well the atwill magic of Harry Potter.

Even so, I feel four cantrips plus rituals, covers most of the feel of spells and potions.



Maybe even a variant rule, that one can cast any known cantrip as a ritual, can help.
 


billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I get that, in Potterverse the challenges are dangerous.

The difference is, Harry Potter is gaining ‘experience points’ by overcoming challenges, rather than by the number of creatures that Harry Potter kills.

In D&D, it is possible to advance levels nonlethally, but D&D does this less well.

I want D&D to be excellent for nonlethal advancement, anyway.

It is my assertion that D&D does this just fine - and has ever since story awards were introduced in 2e. The problem isn't that D&D can't do this, it's that too many published adventures haven't incorporated this. I don't necessarily blame them too harshly for this. After all, combat-heavy D&D is an easy common experience to shoot for to maximize sales.
 

S

Sunseeker

Guest
It is my assertion that D&D does this just fine - and has ever since story awards were introduced in 2e. The problem isn't that D&D can't do this, it's that too many published adventures haven't incorporated this. I don't necessarily blame them too harshly for this. After all, combat-heavy D&D is an easy common experience to shoot for to maximize sales.

I think 4E proved D&D can handle non-combat events just fine, and I don't think there was anything unique to 4E about the way they approached them.

It's just that yes, by and large D&D doesn't bother to include or reward non-combat, and this is reflected by the number of tables that will include social and exploration events, but reward you nothing for them, even though they are required hurdles to progress many quests and campaigns.
 

tuxedoraptor

First Post
As it has been mentioned, the potterverse is rather...combat sparse?...I can't think of a better word for it other than slightly boring. I would not run any game set in the potterverse for that reason alone. I suck at social interactions and most of my players enjoy magic to do things that aren't possible, like burning a man alive from the inside by staring intensely at him. If there was a D&D styled potterverse RPG, there would need to be a lot more ways to gruesomely murder people for my players to be happy.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
As it has been mentioned, the potterverse is rather...combat sparse?...I can't think of a better word for it other than slightly boring. I would not run any game set in the potterverse for that reason alone. I suck at social interactions and most of my players enjoy magic to do things that aren't possible, like burning a man alive from the inside by staring intensely at him. If there was a D&D styled potterverse RPG, there would need to be a lot more ways to gruesomely murder people for my players to be happy.

Wouldn't that depend on the focus of the campaign? The Potterverse isn't just about going to school. There are aurers at the Ministry of Magic and magical criminals about. There are giants in remote areas of the world that could stir up trouble, as well as vampires, werewolves, fugitive Death Eaters. Rather like a Star Wars campaign (or virtually any campaign based on licensing some other story), you're better off playing in the margins around the core story - students in other houses/years at Hogwarts, students at other magical academies, other aspects of magical society, other eras like Voldemort's initial rise or the days of Grindelwald. You could ultimately incorporate as much combat as you wanted.
 

Sean3DGuy

Explorer
Compared to video games, board games and card games (areas where there have been licensed Potter products - some quite successful)the revenue from a licensed RPG would generate for her is (let's be honest) peanuts.

Also - the audience she's selling to primarily the YA and family market. Licensed products for cards, video games and board games make sense for that sort of target demo.

RPGs - eh, not so much.

I was working at WotC around the time the second and third books came out. I saw some of the HP RPG manuscript (I worked in the copy center). One of the things that they were having issues with was the target audience. If it's kids, will it be easy enough to understand. If adults, will it be too simplistic. Also are adults going to be interested in playing kids? It's a weird thing, but I think it was a big enough issue that held the RPG back from getting past just basic design stage.
 


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