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How would you bring a session of the Dueling Club at Hogwarts to life? - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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August 13th, 2003

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05:53 am - 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?
Current Mood: creative but going back to bed

(22 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 01:22 am (UTC)
Ooh, interesting ! Before having a crack at your challenge I'll just remark as a quick aside that whilst Archmage may be worth a quick play by anyone who likes that sort of thing, Archmage II never did reach the point of working properly, so is probably best avoided.

Right - duelling ! There are obviously lots of possible approaches, so I'll just pick one...

* Each duel is fought between two wizard players with a third player acting as ref.

* Each player draws from a small deck of special cards (maybe about a dozen) three spell cards.

* The players then stand at opposite ends of the duelling piste and should be encouraged to do lots of suitably in-character taunting and posturing before the duel begins.

* Each player then secretly selects one of their three spells. (Some spells cannot be chosen at this point, but we'll come to that later.)

* As the duel begins, the question is - who casts first ? Each player rolls 1 die (ordinary D6 for all you gamer types). Each spell card has a 'speed' number, which is added to the roll of the die. The player with the highest speed casts first.

* The player casting a spell has to say its name correctly and perform some sort of casting ritual as described on the card (these cards might need to be larger than normal playing cards, depending on the complexity). Needless to say, faster spells should generally have shorter rituals for realism. These rituals should generally be chosen with a combination of entertaining the audience and relevance to Potterverse canon in mind.

* The judge then assesses whether the spell name was said correctly and the ritual performed correctly. If not, the spell fails. (If it fails, the opposing wizard should be encouraged to taunt and tease as appropriate.)

* If the spell was cast right, one of two things happens. Either the opposing wizard uses a counterattack spell to get out of trouble, or the spell that was cast takes effect.

* Counterattack spells cannot be cast normally by being chosen at the start of the duel (they're what I was referring to earlier). When you try to use one, roll a die and add the counterattack's speed. If you beat the speed of the spell you're trying to counter then it gets prevented entirely.

* If a spell takes effect, the card says what that effect is. Some spells will win the duel outright. Others may just give your opponent some disadvantage for the rest of the duel (eg. "Must wear a blindfold" - which will make casting spells correctly a lot harder since you have to memorise their names and rituals !)

* After the faster of the two spells is resolved, the slower wizard then casts their spell if they have not already lost the duel.

So - that's basically it. The game balance is all in the card design. If you get it right, then you end up with something a little like paper/scissors/stone but with far more options... except that you only ever have three (or fewer) options and your opponent doesn't know which.

The basic strategic core would be something like:

(A) Cast your fastest duel-winning spell.
(B) Cast the best spell you can that's a bit faster than a duel winning spell, hoping to give your opponent enough problems that they mess up their spell, leaving you to win the second round.
(C) Aim to counter your opponent's spell then follow up with something devastating.

You will need to have a few cards which 'break the rules' a little. So, for example, a duel-winning spell with speed 0 which counts as speed 4 against counterattacks (I leave the reader to work out the strategic implications of such an animal).

[Hmm... I wonder what the word limit is on comments ?]
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 01:42 am (UTC)
Just out of interest, are the Archmage rules online anywhere? Or otherwise available to interested parties.
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 02:36 am (UTC)
There's a copy of the rules available on the heffalumps.org server. Alternatively jiggery_pokery seems to have found one in the RPGSoc archives which he links to above. (I suspect these are the same versions, in fact !)
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 04:19 am (UTC)
Your limit is 4300 characters and your comment was a shade under 3600. :-)

I think that's rather more interesting a game than I had in mind. It would definitely work, but the die-rolling and card-reading are a little more disconnected from the action than I was intending. On the other hand, your system accurately models ebb and flow, spell and counterspell, whereas mine modelled two buffaloes crashing head-first into each other and seeing which one collapsed.

Lots to think about. I was definitely hoping that you would respond, yes... :-)
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 04:34 am (UTC)
Thanks !

More connected to the action ? I'm now imagining a game along the lines of 'Twister' with wizards, but I shall resist the temptation to draft rules for it !
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 04:58 am (UTC)
Ooh, don't resist. ;-) *smutty comment* (Remember the Gandalf vs. Saruman scenes in the LotR: FotR movie, for instance?)

One thing I was thinking was to actually have the two duelling wizards initially positioned... well, if not toe-to-toe, wandtip-to-wandtip. You can then have spells involving gesture and dodging. For instance, I'm reminded of the comments before the first proposed (and abortive) Potter/Malfoy duel in Philosopher's Stone) where Ron remarks that neither of them know enough spells to really do much damage to each other and so Harry would be better off punching Draco on the nose.

Punching your opponent on the nose is a connection slightly too far, but the concept of a simulated spell being cast by touch could work for me. I don't really want to get into leiabelle-style fencing with wands, not least because wands don't seem tremendously practical tools for the job, but the concept of a "dispense with magic and just punch the opponent in the face" default gesture which I think would be cast by physically touching your opponent on their arm with the length of your wand and which would lose to, I think, just about anything properly cast seems like a useful option to have, even if not necessarily a particularly useful one to use.
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 05:53 am (UTC)
If you want to go for that kind of thing you could use spongeballs to represent missile spells and so on... could get very silly very quickly !
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 05:48 am (UTC)
Die-rolling might work if they are big furry dice that you can throw at your opponent while standing up. Card-reading not too bad if the contestants can do it discreetly enough.
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 09:45 am (UTC)
The more I think about this, the more I like it as a game for another situation.

One difference between what we have here and what I think I'm looking for is that it could be played about 90% as well sitting down at a table as it could with bells, whistles, costumes and drama on the big stage. This is probably a good thing for the practical chances of this ever getting played, but I'm looking primarily for a big-stage game.

Secondly, I'm really not sure about the involvement of dice and cards; it was something I was hoping to avoid. It would just look like people are playing a game, rather than that they are having a duel - and the look may be more important than the feel. Now I don't mind a bit of chance in there, even if that chance isn't provided by randomness. Iterated rock-scissors-paper, when played between non-emotionless humans, definitely isn't a game of pure chance - see the Tiltboys, passim. Even one-shot RSP may be sufficiently far from pure chance to be interesting.

To be fair, I have a suspicion that I may be throwing up the barriers based on properties that the first solution I thought of doesn't have - that I may be putting the cart before the horse and back-creating a list of desirable properties from a list of actual properties owned by my first solution. Not ideal. It could well be possible to convince me that I really want something different to what I currently think I want, if you could be bothered. :-)
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 10:06 am (UTC)

No, I think you're probably right. Bear in mind that to a gamer like myself a game with only 1 die and a few cards is lightweight !

If the game wants to be as much of a crowd spectacle as possible, you might even want to do it in a 'reality TV voting' style. A panel of 4-or-so really clueful judges assess each spellcasting attempt and pronounce success or failure. They'd have to be decently impartial and armed with a list of all spells considered part of Potterverse canon.

No 'game rules' per se - it's more like a freeform roleplaying exercise. So things like casting rituals, impressiveness of voice used when casting and so on could all be relevant. The opponent's attempts to dodge the spell could also be taken into consideration etc. etc.

For even more chaos, allow judges to take audience reaction (cheering and suchlike) into consideration too !
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 10:18 am (UTC)
Now you're talking. :-)

There's an obvious metaphor in that the judges could adequately thematically be professors. If we wanted to be really ambitious we could try for a whole Triwizard Tournament... er, I think I'll let someone else try that one. (Paging themightyuser...)
Date:August 13th, 2003 10:25 am (UTC)
I could surely use this up in Ottawa...

I was thinking of having a game sort of like Warlocks (find it on www.ravenblack.com) where you would indeed "duel", I too had gotten it when I saw the dueling scenes on the snack tables...

The way I think of doing it would be to have a list of spells and their effects, a LONG one at that, and have three referees on the sidelines... 1 will record which spell each player does, then reports to the main ref who will figure out what just happened. Each spell will have an effect, be it a counter to another spell, a "shield" spell, one to dispel an enchantment, a harm spell, a curse spell, whatever... the ref checks the spells performed against the list of spells and sees the outcome.

You can even implement hit points and other weird variables into the game... thing is, some people may be turned away by the complexity... but I am sure there will be people with the brain power to handle this.

Let me know if anything comes of this brainstorm session...

Thanks =)

[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 10:39 am (UTC)
The cute thing is that the Warlocks game you mention claims a basis in Waving Hands as discussed above - point one of the bulleted list. What goes around, comes around.

Unfortunately I doubt I'll be able to make it to Ottawa unless there's a very good flight deal going, but I'm certainly very interested in thinking round the subject all the same. I would err on the side of simplicity rather than complexity, because there wasn't all that much takeup of the games in Orlando, but you never know. :-)
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 12:21 pm (UTC)
And just in case you don't know, ravenblack is on LJ (he says tautologically).

(By the magic of small world syndrome I encounter him a lot on kharin's LJ.)
Date:August 13th, 2003 10:29 am (UTC)

I started my post before that message was posted, Chris =)
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 10:41 am (UTC)
I have a Wi-Fi Connection of Enhanced Paging +3, sir, and I'm not afraid to use it. :-D
Date:August 13th, 2003 10:47 am (UTC)

Well. Out of many, there has to be a few people who would be interested in a game such as this. From what I know of the Quest alone, my "closest" opponents, if you will, the teenage male/female team, would most likely have adored a game like this. There were 650? people at Nimbus, and many more who didn't register (such as my mom, for example), and we got 15 or so good Quest players from that. 2.3% is a huge portion of people, when you consider everybody is there for Harry Potter, not to play riddle games...

(BTW: Did you pay the $150 (or whatever it was) to get into Nimbus, when you were running DMGAS?)

Lets hear some more ideas.

(oh, and you are a cheater, switching posts around =P)
[User Picture]
Date:August 13th, 2003 10:53 am (UTC)
I believe the final attendance total was a shade over 600. (This counts the speakers and guests, but doesn't count the exhbitors.) Yes, all the committee and all the volunteers had to pay for everything in the first year, just like all the other attendees, but hopefully things will be a little less tight financially for volunteers in the future.
Date:August 13th, 2003 12:31 pm (UTC)
Presumre you know about http://www.worldrps.com/
Date:August 13th, 2003 01:11 pm (UTC)
Who doesn't is the better question.
Date:August 14th, 2003 09:26 am (UTC)
Anybody else with any new ideas?
Date:October 24th, 2003 02:56 am (UTC)



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