Introduction (Chapter 1)
From the Designer
Bloomsbury of London published J.K. Rowling’s debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, on June 26, 1997. A decade later, on July 21, 2007, the publishing house released Rowling’s seventh and final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In that span of time, the adventures of Harry Potter became famous worldwide. The beloved series was translated into 67 languages, making Rowling the most translated author in history. The value of the Harry Potter brand is estimated to exceed $15 billion. Beyond the books, it includes the most successful movie series in history, eight video games, multiple theme parks, and over 400 Harry Potter-branded products sold around the globe.
Yet the world of Harry Potter has no official roleplaying game.
A former employee of Wizards of the Coast, a member of the team that produced the Harry Potter Trading Card Game, told me how the company pitched a roleplaying game to J.K. Rowing. This insider described Rowling’s response. It was markedly negative.
The world of Harry Potter represented the single-greatest opportunity of our generation to introduce people to the wonder and excitement of roleplaying games. Such games are a gateway to imagination, learning, and lasting friendships.
But Rowling dismissed it.
I took this loss personally. Having no Hogwarts-based game to enjoy with my friends, I decided to make my own. I call it Draco Dormiens, Latin for “Sleeping Dragons,” taken from the motto on the Hogwarts coat of arms. To me, sleeping dragons are untold stories, and this game is about the stories Rowling killed, and the ones we can resurrect.
We will not let sleeping dragons lie.
Draco Dormiens resembles many other roleplaying games. Each player has a character, described in part by a set of mechanical capabilities and in part by a player-provided narrative of history and personality. One player, the Storyguide, has no character. The Storyguide acts as referee, moderating the conflicts and interactions of the player characters (the protagonists) and controlling each of the story’s non-player characters (the antagonists and extras). This is nothing new in the realm of roleplaying. But Draco Dormiens has some elements that are uncommon to traditional roleplaying games.
The first element is a pre-set story. Although it is not required, I created these rules anticipating that games will focus on events taking place at Hogwarts during the years Harry Potter attended the school. Many of the events that will occur in such games are pre-scripted. Having read Rowling’s books, the players are aware that some events are “on rails.” Moreover, the whole series presents a sense of destiny; it is a story about a prophecy surrounding the rise and fall of Lord Voldemort. Unlike a traditional game where player characters can potentially affect the outcome of any event, some events will happen no matter what they do. To maintain the sense of self-determination that is critical in a roleplaying game, Storyguides must do two things. They must find their own room to grow stories in the space left empty by the books. And they must create room for their stories to reinterpret pre-set events through the lens of the player characters’ own experiences. Perspective will make all the difference.
The second uncommon element of this game is its use of fan-fiction style storytelling. In addition to regular sessions of play sitting around a gaming table, players in their off time provide written accounts of events that affect their characters. These vignettes are periodically assigned by the Storyguide, with specific themes designed for character exposition. The Storyguide may set page requirements or limitations for these homework assignments. Otherwise, they can be as short or as long as each player decides to write them, so long as they meet the Storyguide’s requirements. This shared writing approach to gaming appeals to certain types of players but may be off-putting to others.
Because this is a game for fans, fans interested in telling stories, the game rules (system mechanics) are minimal. This is the third uncommon trait of Draco Dormiens. The game de-emphasizes math and dice rolling. Character sheets grow in power based on the character’s time at Hogwarts and the players’ completion of writing assignments, not through “winning” or collecting “experience points” in an endless string of encounters. While there remains sufficient rule complexity to make the outcomes of difficult scenarios uncertain, this element of the game probably narrows the field of interested players even further.
Although Draco Dormiens is very story-focused, and it must work within the constraints of pre-determined events from Rowling’s books, it retains the most important elements common to tabletop roleplaying games, the shared experiences of adventure, exploration, and friendships. If you are using these rules for your own games, feel free change any element to make the game traditional or untraditional in the ways that best suit your needs. If you are having fun with it, you are doing it right.
The Structure of These Rules
These rules will appear in three major parts. The first describes how to create characters and advance their capabilities. The second is the gameplay mechanics, how to determine results of contested actions and how those results affect the story. The third part, currently under construction, assists the Storyguide in running the game; how to create well-paced stories, portray villains, and adjudicating conflicts.
Section One: Creating Characters includes Creation and Advancement (Ch. 2), Quirks (Ch. 3), Numbers (Ch. 4), and Supplies (Ch. 5). Quirks come in a balance of positive and negative varieties; they are esoteric, describing character elements that are exceptional and distinctive. Numbers include Attributes and Pools, which show your character’s innate aptitudes, a variety of strengths that have little to do with training or practice. Supplies include those items and wealth available to each character.
Section Two: Playing the Game includes Testing (Ch. 6), Magic (Ch. 7), Conditions (Ch. 8), and Participation (Ch. 9). The Testing rules describe how to roll dice to get results. Magic covers the school’s curriculum and how to put it to use. The Conditions chapter describes the lasting results of conflicts, such as broken limbs or memory loss. Participation rules give rewards to players for completing writing assignments, providing their characters with customization options and advantages.
Section Three: Running the Game, when it is finished, will include Stories (Ch. 10) and Villains (Ch. 11). Stories includes events, pacing, and examples of play to assist the Storyguide. Villains helps the Storyguide construct compelling antagonists of various levels, monsters, mean teachers, and even others students.
The following terms are important to know for this game.
• Attribute: An aspect of your character represented by a number. There are 12 different Attributes divided evenly into four Attribute Categories.
• Class: A broad area of learning taught by a specific teacher. For example, Transfiguration.
• Doubles: In testing, a roll result where both dice come up as the same number. This causes a particularly good or bad outcome, depending on whether the result was a success or not.
• Effect Level: When a spell is cast, a potion is brewed, or some other piece of magic is created, the Effect Level is the result of the die roll plus its applicable bonuses. This determines the effect’s susceptibility to strengthening or weakening through Arithmancy and other means.
• Initiating Action: An action that starts a Skirmish. It takes place at the start of the first round, and the initiating character does not get to act again until the next round.
• Initiative: Numbers defining the order in which characters act each round of a Skirmish.
• Roll Advantage: An advantage in dice rolling. A Roll Advantage can come from any number of sources.
• Pool: An aspect of your character’s health or well-being represented by spendable points. Running out of points in a category puts your character out of action.
• Quirk: An advantage or disadvantage specific to certain characters, one that cannot be defined as a mere number. For example, the Parselmouth ability is a Positive Quirk.
• Skirmish: A conflict involving multiple rolls for different participants made over a segment of time. Skirmishes provide structure to complex scenes by dividing time into discrete segments so that everyone gets a fair proportion of actions.
• Standard Roll: The rolling of two dice to determine the outcome of a difficult or contested action. A Standard Roll uses the higher of the two dice results and adds applicable bonuses.
• Storyguide: One of the game’s participants, a referee who does not portray a character. The Storyguide is the source of the details and challenges that face the protagonist characters and the final arbiter of conflict outcomes.
• Stress Roll: The rolling of two dice to determine the outcome of a difficult or contested action under particularly stressful circumstances. A Stress Roll uses the lower of the two dice results and adds applicable bonuses.
• Subject: A specific spell, potion, creature, plant, or other topic taught in a Class.