Remember, remember the 5th of November.
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
I know of no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot
Guy Fawkes Night
In the UK, Guy Fawkes Night is a pretty big deal. Random fireworks will go off every night for about a week beforehand. On the 5th, Brits gather at bonfires to eat, chat and bask in the warmth of the flames (whilst their back-half freezes in the autumn chill). An effigy of Guy is often burnt and a shower of fireworks will crack and sparkle overhead before the crowd slumps off home.
It gets very serious in some places, the bonfire night at Lewes (Bonfire Night and Guy Fawkes Night are the same thing) is a particularly big deal. A procession is made through the town with various burning objects and effigies of various well–knownpersons are set aflame.
If you’re not British (or Commonwealth) and you know Guy Fawkes Night from anywhere, you probably know it from V for Vendetta. The traditional intent of Guy Fawkes Night is to remember/commemorate a failed attempt by Catholic rebels to blow up the Houses of Parliament, blowing up the protestant King James VI and I (he was the 6th King James of Scotland and the 1st King James of England and Ireland) and the majority of the upper crust of British politicians in the process. The intent of V in V for Vendetta is to remind the people of the UK that they should strike out against tyrannical rule and rebel on-mass against the facist party which rules the UK in the story.
Ed Balls Day
On the 28th of April, 2011, prominent Labour politician Ed Balls accidentally posted ‘Ed Balls’ on twitter.
So apparently Brits will turn anything into a tradition.
I’ve played through startlingly few day-specific festivals in roleplaying-games. Maybe its due to the slow progression of real-time relative to the in-fiction calendar year (which can be fixed by truncating the calendar year as I’ve previously suggested). Or maybe it’s because it’s one of those things that we forget to put into games which could really add to the verisimilitude.
Tables with which one can generate annual village festivals
Type of festival
Deity to be worshipped
How it is worshipped
fertility frog-god, bloated, four-eyed
a sacrifice is burnt alive
the guiding twin-stars of the night
sweet goods are baked and shared on the village green
a laughing baby, personifying fortune
a full-contact race to the peak of the nearest hill and back
the great lidless eye of foresight
floating animal effigies are cast down-river
Grom the destroyer, the foe-slayer
a sun-up to sun-down day of silence with a big shindig at the end
the lady of the dead, clad in white robes
a candle-light chanting procession around the village
Event to be commemorated
How it is remembered
a local battle
a barn dance
a notable birth
a great communal feast
the death of a local hero
a good old-fashioned apple-harvest
the founding of the village
a march or parade
the defeat of a local monster
a story-telling competition
the completion of the village church
a midnight bonfire
Event to be ironically commemorated and how it is commemorated
a miserably romantic marriage proposal – a bad-poetry competition
the time an annoying lord came to visit – a parade of animals dressed in human clothes
the time someone got stuck in a rabbit-hole – the village gathers for a rabbit-themed-feast
the time someone fell of their stool – kicking seating out from under others
when the local priest said ‘dow do you who’ instead of ‘how do you do’ – ‘dow do you who’ is the greeting of the day
an absolutely dreadful pie Old Mrs Higgins once made – the villagers take turns knocking on Mrs Higgins door begging for pie
Either read all the details on this post, or click on the image below to download everything in a tidy, useable, one-page spread.
Robin Goodfellow and Puck are the dual personas of a knavish fae spirit who delights in duping and hoodwinking mortal folk. The twin forms are as two sides of a spinning coin: Sharing core personality traits, temperaments and abilities, but with differing expressions.
Capabilities shared between Robin Goodfellow and Puck
May move unseen and unheard through brush, thicket and brook.
Sprite of foot and quick as a hare.
Can beguile mortals with clever illusions of sight and sound. 3/day
Alters their size nimbly with no care for the laws of nature. 3/day
Instantly shifts the form or shape of either themself or a mortal. The shift back can be freely made. 1/day
Known as: Robin Goodfellow, Robin, Old Hat Character: ultimately harmless, cheeky, jester, moralising reformer Voice: chuckle, guffaw, bark, hesitating, rasping Expression: composed, frowned Movement: amble, totter, shrug Preferred tribute: blueberry mead, fruitcake, gingerbread Dislikes: infidelity, hypocrisy, silver, drums, bells
Encounters with Robin Goodfellow
Hides within a drink/potion/body of water before jumping out to surprise a mortal.
Shifts to become a magnificent mare, alluring and exciting any nearby stallions.
Creates misleading signs, tracks or spoors along his target’s path.
Offers a challenge of a one mile race. The loser puts on a feast for the winner.
Creates an illusion to make nearby birds sound like wolves.
Until properly tributed, target will begin growing a goats tail and horns.
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnèd luck
Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long.
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
The vast majority of spells in Harry Potter seem to involve
Aiming a wand
Enunciating words precisely
Waving the wand in a precise way
Exerting enough energy or power
Knowledge of the spell – either through learning or observation
This works great for a video game, all the precision can be timing of button presses and aiming with the mouse or the analogue sticks.
Mechanically these elements can be translated to a roleplaying game too. Investment of power can be handled by magic dice. You can also game-ify timing at the table.
And these mechanics would represent the fiction well.
But that fiction is still boring. The spells are basically fancy bullets.
Once you know what to do you just fire and forget.
There is no roleplaying-juice.
Except for Harry Potter’s three best spells.
The Patronus Charm conjures a glowing animal spirit which lifts your mood with its presence. It’s used to defeat Dementors, spectre-like floating rags which suck all feeling of love, hope and happiness from their target.
To create an effective patronus, you need to hit all the conditions in the bullet point list at the top of the post. But you also need to bring a powerful, deeply-happy memory to mind and focus on it during the casting.
This is a great matching of theme and mechanism, since Dementors are a clear allegory for depression.
The caster has to do something (think happy thoughts) which the spell is going to amplify.
It’s also a great spell for a roleplaying game – asking the players what memory they’re thinking of, discussing what memories they could use, debating why a certain character is failing at casting the spell. There is a lot of roleplay-juice here.
I know its not a spell but it’s brilliant.
The Polyjuice potion allows the drinker to assume to form of another, for about an hour. A D&D analogue would be Disguise Self.
To make the potion you need a bit of the target – a strand of their hair, nail clipping, eyelash etc.
This is once again a great matching of theme and mechanism.
The caster has to get something (the body part) which the spell uses to know what you should look like.
It works well in a roleplaying game because the players will have to somehow obtain the body part. Woe betide them if they accidently get a cat hair instead of a head hair. In the books, the ingredients are also restricted (requiring stealth shenanigans to steal from the potions master) and it takes months to brew (requiring an isolated hangout to brew it in). Tasty, tasty roleplay-juice.
The spell which returns Voldemort to corporeal form in chapter 32 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Okay its another potion. The fact that my 2 of my 3 best spells in Harry Potter are potions is quite telling.
The Dark Lord must perform a ritual to return himself from a withered husk to his full corporeal body. There are three crucial ingredients to be poured into the bubbling cauldron.
Bone of the father, unknowingly given
Flesh of the servant, willingly sacrificed
Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken
This is a dark ritual. You need enemies, a servant who is taking care of your husk-form, access to the grave of your father and willingness to defile it. In the fiction, Voldemort also believes the ritual will be strongest with his biggest enemy, Harry. The wording of the ritual feels Shakespearean, and therein archaic and secretive.
In 5e, resurrection’s unique requirement is a high value diamond. Not very interesting, and one of the reasons why house-ruled resurrection rules are often touted.
I wouldn’t expect players to use this dark spell in a roleplaying game, unless they are meant to be baddies. However the general format of ‘get these three hard-to-obtain things so you can do the epic magic’ works well.
Bonus best spell: Riddikulus
A boggart will take the shape of something you fear. Visualising the thing you fear in a comedic situation (the giant spider is now floundering around wearing four pairs of roller skates) whilst casting the spell Riddikulus enables you to defeat the boggart.
Making the player visualise and describe how the embodiment of their fear becomes a source of mockery is more great roleplay-juice.
This is a bonus to the list because it retreads the ground that the patronus charm covered. Visualising humour to beat fear and visualising happiness to beat depression are just variations on a theme. Good variations, but variations still.
Applying the DAQ criteria
I wrote about the DAQ criteria previously here. You can use it to look at rpg character features by asking:
Is it Distinctive?
Is it Appreciable?
Is it Qualitative?
Since Harry Potter does not have a class system, we should be considering whether the spells are meaningfully distinct from any other available magic.
Expecto Patronum: Is distinct as its the only spell that can beat dementors and lift your mood. It is appreciable (as its the only good way to counter a dementor, when you use it you definitely appreciate your knowledge.) It’s also qualitative – a spirit is summoned and you now feel happier (or at least, not-worse than you were to begin with). 3/3
Polyjuice Potion: No other spell allows you to take another’s form so it is distinctive. It’s quite appreciable, since there are teleportation spells which are less effort, it’s mostly useful for cons in areas of restricted access. It is qualitative, your form is changing. 3/3
Dark Resurrection Ritual: Definitely distinct as there is no other reasonably achievable way of bypassing death. Very appreciable – if you can avoid death you will always appreciate it. Very qualitative – going from dead->alive is a quality change not a quantity change. 3/3
The other spells in Harry Potter
The combative ones
There are a large number of combative spells in Harry Potter are basically guns/tasers with different skins.
Stupefy – stuns target
Confundus – confuses target
Expelliarmus – disarms target
Petrificus Totalus – freezes target’s body
Any number of joke hex/curse/jinx spells that are included for their whimsical value, for instance, the bat-bogey hex or the slug-vomiting charm
Whilst I appreciate that whilst these spells are qualitatively different, most of the time it wouldn’t matter which one you used as they would all do the job – eliminate the target from the fight (at least for a moment).
All of these spells are qualitative and appreciable, but they are not very distinct from each other. So they probably all rate about 2/3 on the DAQ criteria.
Their main problem, for rpgs, goes back to the bullet list from the start of this post.
Once you know what to do just fire and forget
There’s no roleplay-juice here.
No added value.
The joke ones might get some humour and develop the feel of the setting, its true. Establishing the whimsy of the wizarding world (or reminding us of it) is just as useful in a game as in a novel. But they don’t give us much to speak to the character with.
The utility ones
There are many spells which exist as utility – these spells either need to exist for the setting to work or are obvious spells to write into a fiction
Aguamenti – water making charm
Incendio – fire making charm
Wingardium Leviosa – levitation charm
Apparition – teleportation
Obliviate – false memory/memory wipe spell
Accio – summoning spell
Reparo – repairing charm
Whilst the Harry Potter books do explore the consequences of these spells at times, they are all entirely uninspiring renditions of their concept. They’re very obvious in their execution.
Your game might need spells like this, but I’m sure you can make them more interesting.
The overly specific ones
Mostly these exist to contribute the feeling of whimsy, or to flesh out the laughably undeveloped transfiguration branch of magic.
Waddiwasi – summons chewing gum to fly at the target
Vera Verto – turn an animal into a goblet?
Orchideous – a bunch of flowers bursts from the wand
They are too specific to see enough use in a roleplaying game, where players are more inclined to optimise than book characters.
Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game
In Harry Potter, these three spells are unforgivable if used on another person, earning you life imprisonment in the wizarding prison.
Imperio – mind control
Crucio – torture spell
Avada Kedavra – killing spell
But other magic can seriously mess with somebody’s mind – the mind-wiping spell Obliviate and the truth potion Veritaserum.
But other magic can torture – there are loads of nasty curses and jinxes designed specifically to belittle, disfigure or abuse.
But other magic can kill – powerful destructive spells such as Bombarda and Confringo.
This category of spell makes no sense to me. There’s also no added value to them.
Divination in Harry Potter is absolutely awesome.
It’s the best branch of magic in Harry Potter.
Theme = mechanics throughout.
You want information? Discern it from patterns in random, chaotic systems.
*Chef’s Kiss gesture and noise*
SECOND CURVEBALL ALERT
Divination is so good entirely because it is a copy and paste of real-life divination techniques.
What’s the lesson in all this?
Any Harry Potter inspired rpg would do well to add more flavourful roleplay-juice conditions and restrictions to their spells.
Any roleplaying game would do well to add more flavourful roleplay-juice conditions and restrictions.
Stop making your spells fire-and-forget fancy bullets.
Reminder to steal everything
I’ve talked before about why you should mess about with canon, modifying it to suit your game and reskinning it between genres. You should do this with the world of Harry potter too. Within the boundaries defined by law, of course.
Death of the Author?
I want to make it abundantly clear.
I reject Harry Potter’s author’s transphobic views.
I could write an essay on the problematic elements of Harry Potter. There are many. I won’t though, it has all been said before and this is not that sort of blog.
I would hate for anybody to think that the praise of some of the magic design in this post equates to praise of views which are oppressive towards them. It does not.
I’ve already given some useable statements/rules-of-thumb but here’s something that is useable in a concrete way. I re-mastered my Hippogriff generator from a previous Joesky Tax.
An unnecessary copypasta I made some time ago which I hope effectively demonstrates my feelings about everything Potter related that has been released since about 2011
Merlin’s Beard! What in the name of Dumbledore did you just say about me, you little mudblood? I’ll have you know I graduated top of my magical cookery class at Hogwarts, and I’ve been involved in numerous charity bake-offs, and I have made over 6 million confirmed pumpkin pasties. I am trained in Bertie Botts every flavour beans and I’m the top chef in the entire Department of Magical Transportation. You are nothing to me but just another student. I will pie-grenade you with precision the likes of which has never been seen before on this Earth, mark my Pottering words. You think you can get away with escaping from this magical train? Think again, mudblood. As we speak I am contacting the best aurors across the UK and you’ve still got the trace right now so you better prepare for the storm, muggle-lover. The storm that wipes out the pathetic little thing you call your life. You’re so expelled, kid. I can apperate anywhere, anytime, and I can pasty you in over seven hundred ways, and that’s just with my bare hands. Not only am I extensively trained in pasty combat, but I can turn my hands into spikes and you won’t believe what I can do with my Chocolate Frogs, which and I will use it to their full extent to make sure you stay on this train, you little goblin. If only you could have known what unholy retribution your little escape was about to bring down upon you, maybe you would have stayed on the damn train. But you couldn’t, you didn’t, and now you’re paying the price, you goddamn idiot. I will spike you with my particularly spikey spikes. This train doesn’t like people getting of it, kiddo.
I’ve run Star Trek Adventures a couple of times now. Its core system is feels like a bespoke mechanism for treknobabble and dealing with sci-fi problems, which is pretty much exactly what I need for a trek game.
It’s space combat system feels like playing FTL: Faster Than Light, where either you wipe your enemies or you engage in a manic struggle for survival. The ground combat system is similar, but without the threat of ejection into the void or a warp-core breach.
It’s relatively difficult to find the information you need when running the game, so much so that I created this google slides doc to ease the running of combat when I was prepping my second campaign. Even then, combat took a while.
The characters pick several beliefs and then receive meta-currency for engaging with them. I struggled to make that work in my games, just as I struggled with Burning Wheel‘s meta-currencies and belief system.
Star Trek Adventures has lots of material about the federation and trek-stuff in general, and I wonder what it’s for. I assume most people buying the core book know a reasonable amount about Trek already or they wouldn’t be buying it. But if you didn’t know much about Trek, the best way to find out is to watch a few episodes or movies, not read a dusty tome.
I’m assuming the use of a hexmap, and that each hex corresponds to a star system. Hexes can also be empty, and there are space features which span several hexes such as nebulae.
Your ship has two main actions when travelling: Scanning and Moving.
When your ship Scans, choose one option from below
Detailed Scan: receive detailed sensor information on any one adjacent hex (the star’s class; along with an estimate of how many space ships or other constructed space entities there are; and how many planetary bodies there are, divided into small (roughly Earth sized and smaller) and large (ice giants and gas giants))
Rudimentary Stellar Scan: receive sensor information about two adjacent hexes. Rudimentary sensor information just gives the class of the star (if there is one).
Detailed FLT trail Scan: receive detailed information about faster-than-light trails in any one adjacent hex. This might detail the number and direction of any trails, and information about the size and speed of those ships. The information may be up to a week old.
Rudimentary FTL trail Scan: receive information about faster-than-light trails in any two adjacent hexes. This is just an estimate of number and direction, and only pertaining to travel from the last day or so.
When you Scan you should make some sort of roll or check that will determine the quantity of information revealed.
When your ship Moves you go from your current hex to an adjacent one. Choose one option from below
Cruise: Travel at your ship’s standard speed. You can Move to one adjacent hex
Sneak: Travel at half your ship’s standard speed. You can Move half of a hex’s length and it is much harder for you to be spotted by FTL trail scans (get advantage or something)
Each day your ship can choose two actions from the above list.
If your ship will Cruise twice, you can go an additional hex. This is called Maximum FTL. Sustaining Maximum FTL for more than one day will require an engineering check.
If your ship will Scan twice, then you can scan not only adjacent hexes, but also hexes adjacent to those (ie not only the nearest 6 hexes but also the 12 hexes surrounding that.
Your ship can also spend its actions repairing but that is probably too system-specific to get into here.
Random Space Encounters
I would use a hexmap that’s about 10×10 with star systems no further than 4 hexes from each other.
Once per dey, roll on the Initial Encounter table. If you get an encounter as the result then also roll Complication table.
If you want to have less encounters, keep the table the same but use a larger dice (d8/d10) and make all results above 6 result in ‘No encounter’.
If you want to have more encounters, roll for an initial encounter twice per day instead of once.
A ripple in space-time: ship’s dog Rover is replaced with a cat from the mirror universe that acts like a dog, answers to the name Rover.
Beachball sized orb follows the ship: Whoever looks at it sees a minaturised version of their homeworld.
Ion storm causes a momentary lapse in holodeck safety protocols: A historical figure from a holodeck program is made material and sentient.
Gaseous mind-parasite sneaks in through an exhaust port and infiltrates replicators: Crew’s food becomes hallucinogenic.
A rapaciously hungry tar-like blob attaches itself to the hull causing minor damage: It will grow and devour the whole ship if left to itself. It is psychic and is very open about its desire to consume the entire universe.
Wormhole: Takes the crew back to stone-age earth where aliens are trying to mess up the future. The wormhole will collapse in 3 hours.
As I used up events on the Interior Encounter table below, I added more events based on the actions of the party. These are intended to mostly be short social encounters which emulate day-to-day life on the ship.
Cultural celebration for one of the less prominent species/cultures on the ship
Ship’s pilot is challenged to a simulation race
Physical poetry recital
Barcrawl of 20th century pop-culture bars and pubs on the holodeck
3rd grade’s production of the first ever FTL flight – Senior officers are invited to performance
Safety Drill – how to handle a virulent space-plague
A live-action production of The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan, performed by engineering
An attempt to add obscure alien cuisine to the replicators has succeeded and the crew are invited to Exotic Food Night
Film night and munchies after
Chief historian interviews senior crewmembers
Security Chief puts senior officers through a hand-to-hand combat refresher course
Judging a contest to name a new species of space-whale
In the Exterior Encounters table below, roll d12 twice: the first result is the encountered ship, whilst the second is the mood/motivation of the ship. You may need to roll another ship to interact with the first one for it to make sense. I took inspiration from the random encounter tables in Hot Springs Islands which are fantastic.
The first 8 entries in the table were universal no matter which part of the hexmap the players were in. The last 4 entries changed depending on which inhabited star system they were nearest to.
Because the actual encounters were so closely related to the setting the players were exploring, I’ve genericised them below.
I also used the table below when players scanned a region of space and wanted information on the ships that were travelling through there (or had recently travelled there).
Archeological/Geological research vessel
Astronomical research vessel
Mind Vampire Psychological warfare frigate
Peacekeeper patrol cruiser
Local Merchant Vessel
It would be perfectly possible to re-order the Mood/Motivation column and use 2d6 instead of a d12, knowing that the middle results will be weighted towards much more than the outer results.
I designed the above system for encounters to make it the game feel like Star Trek TNG. Some great bits of sci-fi happen in the less action/diplomacy centered moments of the show, for instance: Data’s excellent poem about his cat, Spot; Worf discussing Klingon mating rituals; and Picard Day. Moments that let us see the characters in a more relaxed setting, or that illuminate and flesh out elements of their cultures.
In my own game the internal encounter table became radically different as play went on and it was increasingly influenced by past actions of the player characters. We had a simulated paintball deathmatch to settle a point of honour; a fashion show to introduce the new ships uniforms; and holographic Steve Irwin examining the ship’s cat, Rover. Our last session had that characters playing a holonovel where they played as their characters playing characters from Robin Hood. It was very meta, very hammy and a great send-off.