Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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How would you bring a session of the Dueling Club at Hogwarts to life?

Lots of people I know seem to be having an ugh-grr-argh sort of day right now and I don't feel capable of being as supportive as I should be. It doesn't help that I tried to go to bed at 1 instead of the habitual 5 and woke up at about 4:40, having dreamt something theoretically fun but actually displeasant. Bah. Stupid dreams, stupid mood, stupid brain, stupid everything.

People have recently been going through all the feedback from Nimbus - 2003 and there was one particularly interesting piece which has been sending vague game ideas through my head for a few days. As there is a substantial proportion of my friends list who have no connection to Nimbus and related Potterific enterprises and also because I've had rather too free rein with the old lj-cut recently, I'll secrete the details for the enthusiasts only. I particularly request the attention of those interested in GAME DESIGN.

One particularly well-loved scene from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is that of the Duelling Club, which was particularly suitable for translation to the big screen in the recent movie. Feared sourpuss potions master Professor Snape and flashy, full-of-self faker Professor Lockhart demonstrate competitive curse-casting upon each other (Snape exposing Lockhart's lack of skills and sending him spinning several feet into the air) with student protagonists Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy emulating their professors shortly afterwards. Lots of scope for special effects and a very dramatic-looking (if somewhat arbitrary) duelling piste.

There was a point at Nimbus - 2003 where the Disney staff set up a long row of tables in one corridor, on top of which they were selling snacks. Once the snacks were gone, the tables remained in place. Some of the cosplayers said "Aha, duelling piste", climbed up on deck and re-enacted some of the duelling scenes. It was rather cool. Anyway, one of the comments from the feedback forms came:
Duelling - I saw someone informally organize one, it would have been cool to have a dueling club (roll dice to see who hits/misses or something?)
Team, your assignment is simple: whether as a thought exercise or something more practical, work out how you would hold an insanely great Duelling Club at a future Nimbus event. Now there are reasons why it may be unlikely that this will ever actually formally appear on an event programme, but it might still happen some day - and it's interesting to think about in theory at the very least.

First line of attack on a problem such as this is to check to see whether it's a solved problem already, whether there exists a duelling-wizards live action role-playing system or not already.
  • A quick web search points to "Waving Hands", which is a very clever duelling wizards game invented by no less than Richard Bartle, who is often credited as the inventor of the first MUD. However, it is complex to the point of unintuitiveness - even I think it looks like a fairly fearsome game - and not even slightly visual. It would be a very tough thing to try to get people to play at Nimbus.

  • bateleur invented a playing card game, Archmage, which I think has tremendously novel mechanisms. Heck, there exist relatively few thematic games played with a standard deck of 52 in the first place. Dom has suggested that there may be some extremely strong strategies in the game, possibly to the point of unbalance, and hints that the rough-and-ready design-notes-form-only Archmage II may be better still. However, even the original Archmage deserves far wider publicity than it has achieved to date.

  • Oh, and there's a little game called Magic: the Gathering, which was briefly popular last decade.
They're not what I'm looking for, though - they're all a step or two removed from the concept of wizards standing on a piste and duelling, a suspension of disbelief too far away. We're looking for something more visual, more immediate, more immersive. To an extent, we're looking at something which looks better than it plays, given that I imagine the target audience being people who've always wanted to be engaged in a Duelling Club and they don't really care how. (Compare with Quidditch at Nimbus - 2003, for instance.) We can afford to set the barriers to entry reasonably high; the sort of people who are likely to play can reasonably be assumed to have a fair depth of knowledge about Harry Potter canon and some of the spells within. We can assume that the players will know how to react if someone casts Tarantallegra or Petrificus Totalus on them. ("Forces the victim's legs to do a crazy dance" or "Turns the entire body of the victim rigid" respectively.)

Combat in the LRP games I've played has mostly been simulated by rubber/foam/etc. melee weapons. However, I know that isn't the only way to do it and believe (correctly or otherwise) that games like the White Wolf's "Mind's Eye Theater" series tends to use rock-scissors-paper when combat is required. This is instantaneous, immediately judgeable by the two players in the duel and extremely obvious. However, it's not exactly... well, exciting or engaging. Again, there's a level of disconnection between the purported activity and the actual activity which determines the resolution, which is something I'd like to get rid of. Other games still use mild physical elements, such as throwing beanbags, to simulate spellcasting. I am a little bit "yes and no" about this: it's visual, but it's a step disconnected from the action.

Now the most successful game designers I've seen are willing to consider very many different ways to simulate a game situation and are prepared to throw out their work and start again from scratch. Sometimes it's easy to get wedded to a game mechanic and try to use it as a one-size-fits-all cureall in every circumstance, even when it may not be the most appropriate tool.

With this in mind, here's what I'm thinking for a basic duelling club live-action RPG. I would envision something like nine famous Harry Potter canon spells, split into three classes of three. Each class is cast by a different wand gesture; I'm thinking this may be as simple as just pointing the wand in a different direction. When the duelling wizards cast spells simultaneously (hmm, need simultanaeity be the case?) then we effectively have rock-scissors-paper but with three different gestures. This can be immediately reconciled by the players and a result declared - the two players immediately will know who has won the duel and so the loser should immediately recognise that it is their time to act defeat in the way implied by the winning spell.

However, I suspect that is a little too simple; ties are probable (1 in 3) and it eliminates the aspect of direction - the concept that a spell can be cast and might miss. I'm currently thinking about trying to introduce a mild physical aspect to the game in terms of players draping a small, loose piece of material over the end of their wand; in casting the spell, the material will fly off the tip of the wand and (hopefully, in the case of a well-cast spell) harmlessly come into contact with the other player. (I'm thinking of a silk circle about 2" in radius rather than anything the size of a handkerchief.) This can be used to permit different types of interactions between spells - for instance, wizards might choose between different colours of silks which might be used to break gesture ties. We can also introduce alternate resolution types based on silk colours, alternate spell types which do not fit into the rock-scissors-paper paradigm and so on.

One of the attractive things about the premise is that there is very obvious scope for expansion and complexity, yet such in-game complexity can be achieved without confusing the players. For instance, many of the target audience are likely to have their own physical prop wands, often very elaborate ones. We could say that anyone who brings a wand which is purportedly certified to have a certain type of core gets advantages in certain circumstances, has certain spells being more powerful and so on. It's a fairly natural sort of way to make the rock-scissors-paper slightly assymetric which has good justification behind it in game terms. Likewise, many players will come in costume bearing house insignia; we can say that a suitably bedecked wizard truly represents a particular house and that different houses have particular advantages with certain spells under certain circumstances. There is an instantly obvious level-based paradigm in that some students may be from different years, with later-year students having received more education and so more skills.

And so on and so on. While I may not be a storywriter, I can recognise the richness of variety of spells within the Harry Potter universe and appreciate it in terms of a game system. For instance, people might decide to become flippant and try to levitate their opponent with Wingardium Leviosa even though it is not regarded as a traditional combat spell. I would have thought that the natural way to do this would be to give it a remarkably difficult physical component, like aiming your silk at the opponent's feet or somesuch. It'll almost certainly be ineffective, but we have a way of resolving it in case it is effective and a justification as to why it was effective or not. Likewise, it's attractive that there are already defined Unforgiveable Curses; the first time anyone gets cute and decides to try one, we have an excuse to (metaphorically) box their ears, eject them from the game and send them to Coventry Azkaban. (Sorry, mhw.)

There's a fun game and a very rich game experience to be had here, I'm convinced. Even the tuition session could be a lot of fun if done correctly; you might care to set it in terms of Dumbledore's Army from Order of the Phoenix, or set it in Chamber of Secrets and get two referees to cosplay as Snape and Lockhart (or the other professors, about whom we already know quite enough for practical purposes) and we have a very natural metaphor in that teaching the players to play would best be done in a Hogwarts class format. This game would offer the closest experience to being a member of the Duelling Club at Hogwarts that the Muggle world would ever be likely to offer - and I can think that there would be a few dozen people who would be so bowled over by the concept and thought patterns engendered by the game that the quality of the mechanics would almost be irrelevant.

OK, I have vague thoughts in mind as to how I would produce a first-draft ruleset from this premise. I'm looking for your ideas here. Let's brainstorm. Accepting that special effects and purported damage are down to the acting abilities of the players, but otherwise not worrying at all about practicality, please, what sorts of things do you think would make a remarkably cool, insanely great Hogwarts Duelling Club experience?

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