Introduction (Chapter 0)
FROM THE AUTHOR
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 currently estimated to exceed $15 billion. Beyond the books, it includes the most successful movie series in history, eight video games, a theme park, and over 400 Harry Potter-branded products sold all over the world.
Yet the world of Harry Potter has no official roleplaying game.
An employee at Wizards of the Coast, a member of the team producing 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, a visceral, negative reaction to the idea of others telling stories in her world, with her characters. So died what was perhaps the single greatest opportunity in modern history to introduce people of all ages to the wonder and excitement of roleplaying games. Such games are a gateway to imagination, learning, and lasting friendships. The loss of such an opportunity is an unspeakable.
More significant to me was the personal loss. I had no Harry Potter game to enjoy with my friends. So I decided to make my own. I call it Draco Dormiens, Latin for “Sleeping Dragons,” taken from the motto from 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.
Draco Dormiens resembles most other roleplaying games. Each player has a character, described in part by a set of mechanical capabilities and in party by the player-provided narrative of background and personality. One player, the Storyguide, has no character. The Storyguide acts as referee, moderating the conflicts and interactions of the player characters (the heroes) 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 uncommon element is the pre-set story. This game focuses on events taking place at Hogwarts during the years Harry Potter attended the school. Many of the events that will occur in game sessions are pre-scripted. The players are already aware that some events are “on rails,” having read Rowling’s books. 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, we must do two things. We must ensure our stories find their own room to grow in the space left empty by the books. And we must create room for our 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 vignettes. Otherwise, they can be as short or as long as each player decides to write them, so long as they meet the requirements (the story-crafting goal) of the writing assignments. This shared writing approach to gaming appeals to certain types of players and 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. Dice use and statistics juggling are deemphasized. Character sheets grow in power based on the character’s time at Hogwarts and the players’ completion of writing assignments, not through “winning” in an endless string of encounters. Traditional systems of earned experience points and levels are straight out. 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.
STRUCTURE OF THESE RULES
These rules are in two major parts. The first describes how to build characters, both the mechanics of character capabilities and the critical story parts that vignettes should reveal. The second is the gameplay mechanics, how to determine results in contested actions and how those results affect the story.
Character building starts with Character Creation (Ch. 1), Characteristics (Ch. 2), Traits (Ch. 3), Classes (Ch. 4), and Participation (Ch. 5). Characteristics are your character’s innate aptitudes, a variety of strengths that have little to do with training or practice. Traits come in a balance of positive and negative varieties. They are more esoteric, describing character elements that are exceptional and distinctive. The Classes chapter describes the curriculum you study at Hogwarts. The Participation rules give rewards to players for completing writing assignments, providing their characters with customization options and mechanics advantages.
The gameplay mechanics section covers Testing (Ch. 6), Skirmishes (Ch. 7), Conditions (Ch. 8), and Subjects (Ch. 9). The Testing rules describe how to roll dice to get results. The Skirmish rules define the order of events, the sequence each person acts or reacts in when things get hairy. The Conditions portion covers the lasting results of conflicts, such as broken limbs or memory loss. The Subject chapter describes the mechanics outcomes of specific rules.
As a final note, some of these rules assume the use of the Obsidian Portal wiki for a campaign website. (Check out http://www.obsidianportal.com.) If you are not using Obsidian Portal, you can safely ignore these references.
The following terms are some of the more important for this game.
• Attribute: An aspect of your character represented by a number, a subset of Characteristics.
• Characteristic: An aspect of your character represented by a number. Characteristics include Attributes and Pools.
• Class: Broad areas of learning taught by specific teachers. For example, Transfiguration is a Class.
• Curriculum Points: Points that measure a character’s learning in a particular Class.
• Curriculum Rating: The sum of a character’s Curriculum points in a particular Class.
• Doubles: In testing, a roll result where both dice come up as the same number. Rolling doubles causes a particularly good or bad outcome, depending on whether the roll result was a success or a failure.
• Effect Level: When a spell is case, potion brewed, or some other piece of magic is created, the Effect Level is the result of the die roll (along with applicable bonuses). This is used to determine the effect’s susceptibility to being strengthened or weakened through Arithmancy or other means.
• Initiating Action: I An action that starts a Skirmish. An Initiating Action takes place at the start of the first round; in that first round the initiating character does not get to act again on her turn.
• Initiative: Numbers defining the order in which characters act each round in a Skirmish.
• Roll Advantage: An advantage in dice rolling. A Roll Advantage can come from any number of sources.
• Negative Trait: A Trait with detrimental effects.
• Pool: An aspect of your character represented by a number, a subset of Characteristics.
• Positive Trait: A Trait with beneficial effects.
• Trait: An advantage or disadvantage specific to certain characters, one that cannot be defined as a mere number.
• Skirmish: A conflict involving multiple rolls for different participants made over a period of time.
• Standard Roll: The rolling of two twenty-sided 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.
• Stress Roll: The rolling of two twenty-sided 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.