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September 14th, 2003

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10:50 pm - Hogwarts Duelling Club - the game: first draft
It's absolute birthdaymania at the moment. All best wishes to themightyuser, frequently found among the games at Nimbus - 2003 and an excellent jockey for homestar's Fandom Squares program, 17 today. He has one of the coolest online birthday celebrations I've seen. Have a great one, Nick.

Not completely coincidentally, this is a sunny Sunday afternoon where I feel like going back to something I was idly kicking around last month - the concept of a Hogwarts-inspired Dueling Club Live-Action Game. Partly so that the lovely Magic: the Gathering geeks can gently mock me back, here's an attempt at a first draft of the rules. Comments welcomed. Usual Creative Commons License applies. Feel free to adapt and/or playtest if you like the look of it.

1. The game should be organised by one or more Duelling Masters and an even number of players. The room should be defined to have a Left wall and a Right wall; these definitions of Left and Right apply no matter in which direction students are facing.

2. Each duel is fought between two players. Each player should be dressed appropriately, should have an appropriate wand and should be armed with three small cones made of fabric, referred to as sparks. They should be coloured orange, purple and brown; the purple one will be referred to as magenta and the brown one as brass.

3. Players should approach each other, extend the wand in their writing hand, stand wand-tip-to-wand-tip, and bow respectfully to one another. After the bow, they should turn their back on each other and simultaneously place one of their three sparks on the ends of their wands, so that they cannot see what the other is choosing. They should then turn back to face each other, with wands pointed at their own hearts.

4. Simultaneously, the players should point their wands directly at their opponents, sending their spark off the wand-tip at the opponent. The wand tips should almost come into contact with each other. A false start is deemed to be the responsibility of the first player to make it.

5. After the brushing of the tips, the duelists should simultaneously point their wands either at the top of the Left Wall, the top of the Right Wall or down at the floor in front of them. They should then announce the name of the spell pertinent to their selected spark and gesture.

6. If and only if both duelists have correctly named the appropriate spell for their gesture and spark and have clearly announced its name, the duel is resolved as follows: spells gestured "right" beat spells gestured "left", spells gestured "down" beat spells gestured "right", spells gestured "left" beat spells gestured "down". If both spells have the same gesture, spells with a brass spark beat spells with a magenta spark, spells with an orange spark beat spells with a brass spark and spells with a magenta spark beat spells with a orange spark.

7. A Duelling Master may adjudge either spell to have been ineffective if the wrong spark was used, an incorrect gesture was made for the spell, an incorrect gesture for any spell was made (for instance, a gesture pointing up, down-left or down-right) or if the spell was not pronounced correctly.

8. A player who believes that they have lost should act in the fashion that is indicated by the spell in question.

9. A player who believes that they have won and sees their opponent accept defeat should cast Finite Incantatem (no spark, gesture directly at the opponent) to relieve their vanquished foe of their act.

10. If and only if both duellists cast the same spell, the duel is drawn.

(remember, first-years are not invited to the duelling club)

Spells gestured down (d for down):

Confundus - down, brass - the Confundus Charm, causes confusion in the victim.
Incendio - down, orange - starts a fire in the robes of the victim.
Impedimenta - down, magenta - the Impediment Curse, stops an victim or slows them to a halt.

Spells gestured left (l for left):

Furnunculus - left, brass - Curse that causes boils to break out all over the victim.
Locomotor Mortis - left, orange - the Leg-Locker Curse, locks together the legs of the victim.
Tarantallegra - left, magenta - forces the victim's legs to do a crazy dance.

Spells gestured right (r for right):

Petrificus Totalus - right, brass - the Full Body Bind, turns the entire body of the victim rigid.
Serpensortia - right, orange - causes a large serpent to burst from the end of the caster's wand.
Rictusempra - right, magenta - the Tickling Charm, causes the victim to laugh uncontrollably.

Or, the same nine spells organised in another way:

Spells cast with the brass spark (s for brass):

Confundus - down, brass - the Confundus Charm, causes confusion in the victim.
Furnunculus - left, brass - Curse that causes boils to break out all over the victim.
Petrificus Totalus - right, brass - the Full Body Bind, turns the entire body of the victim rigid.

Spells cast with the orange spark (o for orange):

Incendio - down, orange - starts a fire in the robes of the victim.
Locomotor Mortis - left, orange - the Leg-Locker Curse, locks together the legs of the victim.
Serpensortia - right, orange - causes a large serpent to burst from the end of the caster's wand.

Spells cast with the magenta spark (a for magenta):

Impedimenta - down, magenta - the Impediment Curse, stops an victim or slows them to a halt.
Tarantallegra - left, magenta - forces the victim's legs to do a crazy dance.
Rictusempra - right, magenta - the Tickling Charm, causes the victim to laugh uncontrollably.

That's just the basic design; you can do all sorts of things from there. For instance, you could have Expelliarmus being cast with no spark at all, but requiring that you deflect your opponent's wand out of their hand; likewise, there are some mentions of a Shield Charm (no incantation given, alas) which could be signified by knocking someone's spark clean out of the air before it lands, and so on.

I have avoided using house colours in sparks because we can do funky things with them; if someone is wearing a house patch, or sufficiently much clothing in house colours, we can give them a house spell which can be cast with a house-themed spark. I imagine it would be a direct replacement for one of the nine basic spells, with the criterion that it beats the spell it replaces in case of a tie. True, this means that someone has five ways to win rather than four ways to win and one way to draw, but that's acceptable in my book.

If we really want to sell out integrity in return for sponsorship, the - cough, cough - commercially aware thing to do would be to organise this game in co-operation with one of the manufacturers of replica wands. Anyone using an Official Wand™ would get a similar extra spell pertinent to the supposed characteristics of the wand in question - or alternatively they could transform a loss to a certain sort of spell into a tie, that sort of thing.

We can also expect people to get fancy, get a little too much in character and try other spells from the books. We can simply say that Stupefy is too complicated to have any success when tried by a second-year who doesn't really understand what they're doing. (Of course, should a Duelling Master running the game cast it...) Someone's bound to try Wingardium Leviosa; we can say "levitating a feather good, levitating a duelling opponent bad" - or, more entertainingly, we might require a spectacularly unlikely stunt like knocking someone else's spark out of the air with your own in order for it to succeed against the mass of a duelling opponent. Obliviate? We can just cop out and say "too difficult to cast, no effect". Or we could possibly create a fifth-year version of the game which has more spells in.

If anyone who claims Slytherin blood really freestyles and tries the like of Morsmordre, we can bounce them out of the game with opprobrium. Should anyone try an Unforgiveable Curse - well, not only can we rule "no effect" ("you could all get your wands out now and point them at me and say the words, and I doubt i'd get so much as a nose-bleed", GoF 14, UK pg 192), but I would rule that we take them out of the game, send them to the Ministry of Magic and expel them to Azkaban. Unforgiveable Curses ought to be unforgiveable, even in a game context. OK, perhaps it might be a bit much to expel someone from a convention for pretending to cast one, but if we're going to try to run the game in character, I would have no objection to scaring seven bells out of them and making like we would do for half an hour or so.

At the other end of the spectrum, we would be missing a trick not to bear in mind the thinking behind the wizard's duel which never took place in the first book. As Ron said, all that Harry and Draco could do would be to shoot sparks at each other and punch each other on the nose. Fisticuffs do not make for an improved game, but I'd have thought it would be thematic to introduce a non-spell of avoiding your opponent's spark and touching them physically but gently on the shoulder instead as a physical blow in game terms. It would lose to any properly-cast spell, but would beat an improperly-cast spell.

And so on and so on, but that's all I can think of for now.

This isn't fundamentally a hugely interesting game; it's just gussied-up rock-paper-scissors. However, that may be enough so long as the presentation is sufficiently attractive. Given the audience who would play it, the game looking and feeling great is far more important than it being inherently an interesting game. Frankly, I'd have thought that the target audience would be so carried away if we got the flavour of the game right that the simplicity wouldn't matter. There's also an argument that the game isn't simple by most people's tastes, but nine is not a large number of things to memorise, there are in-built mnemonics, everyone's familiar with the source material in the first place and the spells are largely self-explanatory in the first case. I'd've thought that two Duelling Masters cosplaying in character as Lockhart and Snape could get players up to speed in about half an hour or so.

This would also be interesting as a practical study into the importance of ritual within a game. Now ritual is a slightly taboo word loaded with religious connotations, but completely secular ritual in games adds a lot to the charm. Bernie ("deepfun") DeKoven uses the example of how ritual enhances the tag game "Lemonade" within his book the Well-Played Game (large PDF file), for instance. There is as much reason for the duelling preliminaries and just plain acting to be present in this as there is for, say, the seventh-inning stretch and Take Me Out To The Ballgame, which I would contend are part of the essential charm of the baseball experience. The sort of person who would enjoy playing this game would enjoy being given the opportunity to take it just a little bit too far. People often tend to add just a dash of ritual to the games they enjoy without any instruction to do so in any case.

(Incidentally, talking of ritual, I was thinking the other day about how much fun a marriage ceremony between two people, both of whom were prepared to reject all traditional religious ritual and replace them with completely home-brewed secular ritual, could be. This would probably tend to suppose that they were paying for the wedding themselves, and so having no pressure upon them to make the wedding some particular way to please the family who are footing the bill. I know two gaming couples who have expanded their receptions into full-scale games conventions; surely the next step would be to turn the service into something a bit more hedonistic still. The possibilities are restricted by imagination and taste alone, though we've all heard tales of the bungee jump wedding, the parachute jump and the divers' wedding, but surely weddings are meant to be your own ideal once-in-a-lifetime experience to remember?)

Have at, people. Harry Potter fandom folk: if you were in the right venue with the right company at the right time, do you think that you would be interested in playing? Is there anything that could be added - or subtracted! - to make either the game better or the overall experience cooler? Game design folk: does the balance between game and experience look about right to you? What are your experiences with designing experiential games?
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(7 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:September 14th, 2003 06:34 pm (UTC)

Say we have a rock-paper-scissors tournament, using our hands, and saying a specific incantation while we make our throw. Repeat for a couple hours. Not many people will stay to watch.

I am a big fan of the complex game... in order to be "real", I mean, we obviously can't cast spells, but dueling in the HP world ISN'T easy, it takes a lot of focus and brainpower...

The players here should use at least the same amount of brainpower as they do in HP (to scale, of course), and not just make random moves.

Each spell has a specific counterspell, or a specific coup fourre, and a specific effect...

We would have a spell reference sheet to look at mid-game and all that...

The players would do the whole formal duel bowing and other crap, then cast their spells vocally. (at this point, the timekeeper would start an X minute clock) A head judge would decide which got their spell off first, and would raise one of the flags in each of their hands indicating so. The second player would then have X seconds to perform his or her counterspell, if it succeeded, the secondary judge would indicate so by raising his green flag (not the red for a fail), and "control" goes to the other player. That player can then perform another spell or counter, and you repeat until one of them fails.

The timekeeper then stops the clock, and based on the spells cast, the player would take "damage points" and/or receive some type of physical inhibition (blindfold perhaps)..

We can have a spell reference outside the game, for players to look at during the "damage resolution and resting" period, as well...

Just as we did with Quidditch, we could have a big scoreboard indicating the current life total for each player, and a time update at the end of each "battle" resolution. At end of time, if one player is not dead, the duel is considered a draw, and each player would receive one swiss point for that match, if a player wins, they get three, losses are worth zero. (just like normal swiss tournaments)

We would have the cut to top (X), and then the single elimination based on that. The way I see it, it could be run just like Quidditch, with all the people gathered to watch, it would be a huge spectacle, and would also include some real strategy. We could even bring wand positioning into account, or other "form" requirements for a successful cast...

We would print out several "pamphlets" with the rules and a spell reference for the audience, so they can follow along... if we have 24 players, that is 5 swiss rounds, say 3 minutes a match (90 seconds, with a few pauses for updates), 12 matches a round, thats 3 hours. Quidditch was ran for 2.5 hours. I see no reason why we wouldn't be able to get 4 hours to use for this...

This is just the logistics, if this sounds like it would work, and not just a flawed idea I tend to often have, then we can work on the spells and finer points of the game.

Let me know
[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2003 06:16 am (UTC)
I do like the way that we can start from similar premises and reach completely different conclusions.

Your idea would work very well, quite probably even better than my idea, but it's not what I'm after, and I'll tell you why.

I perceive that most of the target audience - that is, attendees of a future Harry Potter convention - are not particularly big game fans and tend not to have much patience for complicated games. Should future HP cons get to an audience of, say, 2,000-3,000, I'd have thought that you would be able to practically cream off the 1% to make the 20-30 players who would be interested in playing a very detailed game and make it worthwhile playing; however, such a small percentage took part in Game Room things this year (quite possibly because it was not terribly well publicised...) that I think the 1% estimate is not unrealistic.

I'm also uncertain about the motivation people would have for taking part. You'll always get a small percentage who are interested in complicated games, but you'll get a large percentage who are interested in participating because of the drama and characterisation aspects of the thing. They are my target audience as much as - no, more than - the hardcore gamers.

With this in mind, I'm thinking of a much shorter, lower-profile activity than you are; maybe half an hour's instruction, with the instruction being quite dramatic and skitty, and just 15-30 minutes gameplay. I envision it to be primarily a participation event rather than a spectator event, simply because Quidditch proved to be complicated enough for spectators to follow already - which gives a realistic balance between what we consider simple and what the masses consider complicated. On top of that, I'd rather low-ball and leave people wanting more (work up to the Good Stuff!) rather than overshoot and put people off.

It's also debatable whether people actually want to spend half an hour learning to play a game. Now you and I could probably learn the rules to my first draft above in about three minutes - four and a half, tops. However, I tend to favour going slowly, lots of repetition, lots of in-character stuff; I'm thinking five minutes of heavily characterised pre-preparation, five minutes practising the gestures and so on, five minutes on the first three spells (just using one spark), five minutes pointing out the numbers of ties and explaining the sparks, five minutes on the full nine-spell game and five minutes on any extras that we decide to bring in. That's half an hour already. Hopefully that would be slow enough that everyone gets up to speed, but not so slow as to bore everyone rigid. (Those values of "five" would be a little flexible in practice.) The whole show could be over in about 45 minutes, allow 60 for safety; we'd get far more people interested in spending an hour than two or three.

The other issue I have is that of fundamental cause-and-effect. I inherently prefer games where the players can work out the cause-and-effect and the combat resolution themselves rather than having to require a referee to do so. Similarly, I'm not sure how many referees and staff your version of the game would require, but I work on the general principle of "the fewer, the better".

I agree that the Swiss system is an excellent way of running tournaments in general, but I suspect it would be overkill for us. I'd've thought something like round-robin within houses (switching some of the surplus Gryffs and Slyths to other houses...) and then taking top performers from each house for a single-elim final.

In short, I know that I would like to play in your game, but I'm not convinced that your game is what most con attendees would want to play.

Glad to hear your birthday went so well, by the way!
[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2003 05:06 am (UTC)
Game design folk: does the balance between game and experience look about right to you?

That really depends on the target audience. For a game like this, the classic test of actually playing the thing and seeing if people have fun is probably the best way to go !
[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2003 07:31 am (UTC)
You've put a lot of thought into this, and what you've come up with looks entertaining.

Where it seems to fundamentally differ from the duels in the books (and as usual, I'm talking off the top of my head here), is that each duel consists of one round of spells only. I'd like to see them run for longer.

Possible mechanism: you can lose the duel if and only if you're under disadvantage at the start of the round. For entertainment value, disadvantage is as defined in your Standard Book Of Spells. For game mechanics, disadvantage removes something from your armoury - probably the most recently used spark. Winning a round while under disadvantage restores the status quo.

To prevent protracted duels, casting a spell already used in the course of a duel automatically loses the round - if both participants cast a duplicate spell in the same round, the duel ends as a draw.
[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2003 07:43 am (UTC)

No, better still...

If both the spark and the direction of a spell are winners, then the duel ends. Petrificus totalis immediately beats Tantallegra as right beats left AND brass beats magenta, regardless of the game position.

In practice, it would be improbable to immediately win whilst under disadvantage, as your opponent has the option of a "safe" spark. Of course, if they mess up...
[User Picture]
Date:September 16th, 2003 05:51 am (UTC)
each duel consists of one round of spells only. I'd like to see them run for longer.

Hmmmm-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-m, which is my "you've really given me something to think about there, of which I approve" noise. I will have to look into this. Certainly the framework you suggest has much in its favour. I have a suspicion that canon doesn't go into great detail here, but I'll look into this. (It would be far more fun to do Psychic Serpent-verse Duelling Club, the game, but also rather harder.)
Date:September 16th, 2003 07:34 am (UTC)
Such is the beauty with my proposed ruleset.

Multiple-spell matches, a possibility of an absolute draw (there does not have to be an absolute winner to a match, hell, you can even intentionally draw to make it to the cut to top X), and a more "realistic" feeling, if you will.

Difficult, sure, but that is the cost for a brilliant game. Not to mention what you can do to make it visibly appealing to hundreds/thousands of raving HP fans as well.

M:TG is one of the most complex games I have ever seen played (the comprehensive rules is over 150 pages long), yet I can always find the biggest idiots ever, staring me down from across the table...

My point is: when it comes to needed brain power, it doesn't take much to *learn* a complex game. Winning is different. Granted we will only find about 8 committed players out of 800, but the rest who aren't so committed will surely be able to *learn the rules*, and then just 0-2 drop out of the swiss (or 0-5, heh), while the top X is the "grand finale" that people will want to see.

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