I recently watched the last of the Harry Potter movies,which was fun (and had a good dragon!), and thinking about it afterwards was struck by the absence of an RPG for this world. As far as I can tell, there is no official RPG. There are a lot of forum-based RPGs, but no apparent real ones. I’m pretty sure that this has something to do with the strict licensing rules that J.K. Rowling has put on her world, but I was also wondering if it might be related to the snootiness of RPG players and developers, who often seem to dismiss Harry Potter as either a) not serious or b) a rip-off of “better” books or c) too popular. Often I hear complaints from role-players about Harry Potter that seem to include all three at once. I wonder if this influenced developers’ decisions about whether to try? I also guess that Rowling doesn’t have much connection to the role-playing world, unlike, say, Jim Butcher or George Martin, and so didn’t entertain requests from developers with the same openness that she might have treated, say, movie-makers. Finally, I’m guessing that acquiring the rights to Harry Potter for an official RPG would have been expensive and would have involved a lot of development work

Anyway, regardless of the reason for the non-appearance of such a game, I think it’s a missed opportunity for the RPG world. Harry Potter is as popular as Star Wars, and its appeal mainly lies with impressionable kids. A good, age-appropriate RPG for this mob, even if not a “proper” RPG by the standards of your average traditionalist, would be an excellent gateway drug for a huge cross-section of the non-nerdy community. Rather than expecting them to read a bunch of obscure texts from Appendix N before they can get into the game, they’d turn up at the ripe age of 13 having already absorbed the entire setting, and eager to get into it and do their own thing. For younger gamers even a semi-board game system, heavy on the fluff, or barely more advanced than a choose-your-own-adventure, would be fine. With a captive audience, a well-established world and a set of references that they’ve all read, there would be the potential to draw in a very large number of people who could be trained up for the fantasy genre and introduced to the ideal of RPGs. After that, I would say, some small proportion of them would stick it out.

The Potter books are unique, too, for drawing an age cohort through them. People start reading these books at somewhere between the age of 8 and 12, and keep going all the way up to 16 or 17. A whole cohort of high-school leavers spent their entire school lives reading this stuff. Just as the books get darker as they progress, a well-designed Basic-Expert-Master style of game design could hook them in to a semi-RPG at 8 and spit them out the other end at 16, fully versed in demonology and necromancy. Even a lot of the spells have been written already, and there’s a whole bunch of stuff that could be run as a spin-off – an attractive miniature-based Quidditch system, a series of campaign books based on innovative involvement in the original story, some kind of card game based on all the Hogwarts characters (sold by house) – that could be either directly related to the game or just released by the same company. It’s the kind of thing that Fantasy Flight Games could surely excel at. And those 16 or 17 year olds would naturally start looking for other systems to play in their own fantasy worlds at some point – the benefits would soon spread across the entire RPG scene.

It’s a shame this hasn’t happened, because I think it would invigorate the scene, draw in a lot of new blood from diverse backgrounds, and maybe give whatever company did it a sufficient revenue stream to enable them to not bastardize their other RPGs for maximum profits. I wonder if anyone thought of it, tried, and failed, or if the developers overlooked it from the very start? Whatever the reason, it’s a shame it didn’t happen.