Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter & Greyhawk

At long last, the final installment of the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Pt 2) is hitting theaters tomorrow. I'm sure by now most people who game have either seen the movies, read the books, or like me done both. It may just be me, but when I first experienced these stories I saw alot of good characters and concepts (especially horcruxes) I wanted to use in a D&D campaign. Indeed, never since the Hobbit has supposed "children's ficition" moved my imagination this much. Yes, I am talking about the feasibility of running a wizard school campaign in Greyhawk! Crazy you say, grognards? Perhaps. But all the information you need to build one is there in canon, all you need to do is to pull it all together:

The School
This part is easy, in the most central place of all, Greyhawk City, we have the University of Magical Arts ready to be used!

"Across the whole of the Flanaess, the rich and the humble alike dream of sending their children to Greyhawk's prestigious University of Magical Arts." -Living Greyhawk Journal #5

Built by the mayor-archmage Zagig Yragerne, this structure is hard to miss in the city. It is a pyramid with no doors, windows or mars of any kind, and a wall surrounding that. New students are met at a pre-arranged spot at the pyramid and are allowed in by a mage using spells to bypass the school's protections. The university has an underground auditorium and nine floors, each corresponding to a level of arcane study.

Tutors and senior students may come and go from the university at will, but the youngest students aren't allowed to leave the pyramid at all for their first two years! Students who finish this apprenticeship (and are thus first level wizards) are then allowed to leave the school and "explore the world". Because of this practice, students of the university generally return to train for their further levels. (Note: this means students of the higher levels may be quite older than those starting out.) There is generally 100 new apprentices on the first tier, 60 1st level mages, 40 2nd level, 20 3rd level and decreasing so on as the students become more advanced and move on. Admission to the University of Magical Arts requires sponsorship of another wizard, approval of the board of tutors and an initial fee of 100 gp. The school takes applicants from most races and all over the Flanaess, with the Greyhawk domain area being most common of course. 

Important NPCs
When running a magic school like in Harry Potter, you need a host of characters. The teachers are a good place to start and luckily there are a few in canon already:
Kieran Jalucian (Principal and also Guildmaster of Wizards) (Wiz 21)
Tobin Potriades (Senior Tutor from 576-591 CY)
Abrazaldin Hosk (Senior Tutor 591-present) (Wiz 20)
Darnak Khorshan (Head Porter, both the university and the Guild of Wizards have dwarven security) (F6)
Ephraim Blackrod (Master of Ceremonies, a ceremonial title but does hold real power in the school)

Playing Youths
The first reservation most gamers would have is playing children. In Harry Potter they start at Hogwarts at an awful young age but the school encompasses several years and age groups, thus by the end of the saga the main characters are respectably matured enough to be decent adventurers. This in mind, a DM can adjust the starting ages for his wizard school along with what the players are comfortable roleplaying. I can speak on this through experience; I ran four full game years of a "hero high school" campaign using Mutants & Masterminds and if you gradually adjust the game from a non-lethal "light hearted" storyline to a "darker" more dangerous one, the age of a young PC really doesn't matter since most of the action occurs among peers of their own age. If you follow the Harry Potter stories, this is how things progress.

Now one of the first logistical problems of younger characters is they aren't physically or mentally on par with the adults that they encounter at their school. There are a few solutions to this. First, in the hardback AD&D book Greyhawk Adventures, there is an interestingly extensive ruleset for playing "0-level" characters. Apprenticing characters using this must train and build their skills and attributes all the while under the tutelage of  an instructor. Even alignment is formative with morality and ethics being tracked in this 0-level system. Perfect! A less intensive way to handle the age disparity (as we did in M&M) is to simply lower the baseline attribute for point buy characters. As the character ages (at whatever rate the DM determines), these stat points raise back up until they are considered typical "young adult" PCs. There are other perks you can give for aging up to young adult such as a few extra skill points, feats, or whatever the DM can imagine. Also remember, most editions of D&D have optional rules for "level training", that is you are not allowed to actually raise a PC to the next level until time and money is invested. These systems would be good to look into for simulating the time and energy spent in the University.

An All Wizard Campaign
Some players might blanch at the thought of everyone playing the same class since it lacks the balance needed for a traditional D&D game. Being a wizard in Harry Potter is common but in Greyhawk it is not. This is problematic but not a total loss as long as the first couple years of apprenticeship takes place inside the wizard school environment. All a clever DM has to do is tailor the plots and obstacles toward a group of wizards, and since most things inside a well regulated wizards school are not out to kill the PCs even low hit point wizards don't have to perpetually worry about being slain. Once the PCs are allowed to leave the pyramid and roam the city or beyond, is when they may begin multi-classing and occasionally taking on non-spellcasting companions. Yet, everytime they return to the University the stories will certainly center on wizards.

Finishing Touches
The University does have competitions in the Free City Arena with the other colleges of Clerkburg. The nature of these events isn't certain (though I have my own ideas) but it wouldn't be a stretch to say the University has its own intramural version of Quidditch that is played there or beneath the pyramid.

Want that Harry Potter flavor to your magic? Try this site that lists latinized names for D&D spells. It's not silly, Ancient Suel is generally considered the 'latin' of the setting.

Main villain? Guh! Do I have to do all the work? How about a student sponsored by the renegade Seeker, Eli Tomorast? That would set the PCs up for a lifelong enemy!

Essential sources for the University: City of Greyhawk Boxed Set (1e/2e), Greyhawk: The Adventure Begins (2e), Living Greyhawk Journal (issues 4-5), Greyhawk Adventures (1e/2e) and one last book, College of Wizardry (2e). I never owned this book, but if any accessory was ever written with this type of campaign in mind, this has to be the one.


Argon said...

Your ideas for the campaign seem good. Though I am one of a few people who could care less about Harry Potter. It was written well but not to my liking. I saw the first movie it was ok but the second and the third was as far as I could go. The first book was good did not bother to read any further then the first book though.

mortellan said...

I think the novels actually do get better as the series goes along. Anyhow, from a D&D standpoint the details of the stories; monsters, magic, myths, even the names of people are incredible if taken as a whole. A DM could do much much worse than plundering HP.

Icarus said...

You know ... i've never even read the books, and have only seen the movies sporadically at best, and only half of those.
I don't think that I would want to play a college-kid game, it's certainly a cool concept. And I can *really* imagine that there would be goings-on at the University like what happens at Hogwarts. Well done, Mort. Bravo.

mortellan said...

I think a Greyhawk University campaign could conjure up some great buried artifacts like they do in the books.

Icarus said...

Hey, while I'm thinking of it ... where'd you get that picture of the apprentice wizard that looks spooked out about something? I recognize it, but, I can't place where I've seen it.

Anonymous said...

I'm an HP fan, There's nothing groundbreaking about HP but JK Rowling executed the series brilliantly, Her strong suit is iconic characters, and hers are as compelling as literary creations can get. The books were great reads and the movies held up remarkably well beside them.

Morty I think your wizard school campaign concept is a great one! I think it'd make for a very fun game. It reminds me of a gladiatorial campaign I ran a couple years ago, in that it was to a fairly great degree a campaign on rails and that worked fine given our time constraints for play. (Quite honestly, the sandboxier things got, the less fun the players seemed to have)

If I were running a wizard school game, I wold probably start the player characters at the AD&D starting ages as young adults, unless my players were adolescents, in which case I think your ideas re apprentice-level characters would work very nicely.