17 March 2022
Roll for magic school, as we look at some of the ways you can bring Harry Potter and Hogwarts itself to your tabletop roleplaying games without an official option being available.
There may not be an official Harry Potter RPG, but we’ll use Gamp’s Law to transfigure something else into something close. Here’s our guide to playing Harry Potter without an official RPG, and a chance to find out which system suits the house you belong to.
The year is 1997, and in pre-millennium glory, suddenly everyone knows the name of a certain bespectacled young wizard. From Privet Drive to the magical school of Hogwarts, from homework to a genocidal maniac with a non-redeeming respect for his enemies schooling (the only real explanation for the combat always conveniently taking place in summer), the subsequent books took the world by storm, becoming not only bestsellers, but spawning films, events, theatre shows and exhibits. It’s not too much of a stretch to call to mind the plethora of merchandise at the time, of varying degrees of quality, from the surprisingly good Harry Potter Trading Card Game, to the awkward gobstones attempt, and yet… never an RPG.
There’s nothing to say the market didn’t exist for it. Children and adults alike were constantly wanting opportunities to dive into the wizarding world. Certainly, it formed the foundation of things like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Orlando, where you can walk through the streets of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, buy your own wand and robe, and pick up wizarding food and drink. Similarly, we’ll soon see the release of an open-world digital RPG in Hogwarts Legacy. Proof, surely, that we’re wanting to immerse ourselves in its world?
The internet is swimming with comments on it. Many claim to have pitched to unknown entities, but never got particularly far with their endeavours. Could it be a lack of familiarity with TTRPGs? A dislike of them? Something missing from their propositions?
Perhaps we’ll never know, but that won’t stop many of us from wanting to live our best Hermione Granger-esque lives in tabletop form, leaving it down to us to look at some of the alternative options that pull on that tug of magical longing, and potentially offer us something extra for our tabletop. Whether you want to distance yourself from the franchise and go your own way, or are just nostalgic for that magical adventure, we’ve three recommendations to be used independently, or together, that’ll have you knowing your Buckbeak from your Witherwings in no time.
KIDS ON BROOMS
This is easily the closest to walking the hallways of Hogwarts, memorising where the trick step is, and avoiding Filch at every opportunity that we’ll get. Kids on Brooms offers us a full system to use that arguably simplifies and streamlines unusual encounters, allowing us to get on with the good stuff. You begin by crafting your own school, creating rumours and history around it, before reminding players that ultimately, this is a school. Pick your subjects and receive increases at the end of the year as a result, but be sure not to miss too much schooling while you’re off on an adventure – you’re here for your education, after all.
There are even suggestions for sports, as those who have brooms are wont to do, but you can lean pretty heavily and pretty comfortably into your existing wizarding knowledge to fill in any imagination gaps. It also plays without being overly confrontational, giving examples of how to prevent or manage the more aggressive playstyles you may see, keeping you along the (to borrow the term) good alignment, or at worst, merely neutral.
All of this sits within the Kids on Bikes system, which is straightforward enough to leave the maximum space for roleplaying. Instead of spending forever trying to calculate the best stats for your new character, you simply apply one of the six polyhedral dice standard for an RPG (removing the D%) to one of the six stats: Brains, Brawn, Flight, Fight, Grit, and Charm. When called to roll for them, you must beat the difficulty level set by the GM (ie, roll over an 8 to succeed in this). There are extra bonuses to be had, and factors that make failure more appetising, but you’ll need only the shortest of explanations to begin your journey into magic.
Perhaps the biggest downside is also one of its biggest strengths too, in that arguably, the game plays a little young. When you fail a dice roll, you’re given an adversary token, and you can share these with other players, making it sometimes a little too easy to overcome obstacles. It’s perfect for gallivanting through the halls as young teenagers, but adults playing eleven-year-olds run the risk of growing tired of child-like motivations. However, a good GM should take steps to balance this, and equally, it’s easily inclusive enough for all ages to play, making it perfect for introducing your Harry Potter loving child into the world of RPGs (or vice versa, as the case may be).
ADVENTURES & ACADEMIA
Adventures & Academia isn’t strictly a system, or even a book, as the others in this list are. It’s more of a springboard for ideas that makes Home Brewing that little bit easier. Having recently been successfully funded through Kickstarter, it does offer a one-shot adventure, but frankly it’s the miniatures and lore suggestion that you’ll take from this, and be able to reapply Hogwarts logic to.
Adventures & Academia is a Steamforged project, made by those who created Animal Adventure. Animal Adventures: Dungeons & Doggies, and Cats and Catacombs – and indeed, Epic Adventures – offer a starting point for making great RPGs on your tabletop, offering you everything you need to get going. All come with some quite impressively sculptured minis, and Adventures & Academia is no different.
The offering is a collection of magical college characters for the game, and whilst its prebuilt character sheets offer you 5E, there’s no reason you couldn’t adapt the style of character to other game systems, and use the miniatures as you wish. For example, there’s a rather endearing wizards hat wearing basset hound, that would work perfectly as a teacher of some discipline (you could even offer him the name of Mr Fluffy for an interesting backstory, as well as some Cerberus turned domestic style lore). Whilst you could make them as close to what we know of Harry Potter as you like, each of them looks like they could roam the halls of a different magic school, or a different era, or a different planet, without any real effort.
Of course, it will also offer you Houses depending on your personality and drives, though these come under House Arcane (Warlock, Sorcerer, Wizard), House Cunning (Rogue, Ranger, Bard), House Divine (Druid, Cleric, Paladin), and House Might (Fighter, Barbarian, Monk). We’ll leave you to work out which parallels they might run with…
Does it offer you a Harry Potter RPG in a nutshell? No, and certainly not like the other two in the list. However, it’s a great inspiration point for those comfortable with homebrewing, and a visual element to share across the tabletop. Use it in conjunction with the aforementioned Kids on Brooms, and upcoming Strixhaven, for maximum effect.
One of the newest D&D books available, and surprisingly based on Magic: The Gathering rather than Hogwarts post-18-education-sector, Strixhaven is at its simplest, Magic University. Where Kids on Brooms pitches to the lower aged audience, Strixhaven anticipates you are grown-ups. Considering aspects such as necromancy style college that you can pick in your second year, this is perhaps for the generation who wanted to ask what happens after you do well on your NEWTs (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests, for those muggles out there).
Set on the plane of Arcavios (or wherever is most convenient for the DM – Scotland, anyone?), students attend Strixhaven, before specialising in one of five colleges founded by dragons, from math focussed Quantrix, to the art focussed Prismari. The setting teaches about magic itself, rather than requiring you to have magical abilities, but in a setting such as this, why wouldn’t you?
Strixhaven is also perhaps the most guided of our Harry Potter recommendations, whilst also being best for a confident DM. Strixhaven contains four adventures to span the four years of college, and whilst those have received mixed reviews in terms of excitement and adventure, with a little magic loving license there’s plenty to take from it. There’s plenty of considerations to be made to flesh out your character, events to take part in, peril to worry over, all whilst having you avoid sinister plots at the same time. Plus, it does a remarkable job of capturing Campus life, meaning even if you want to relive or try out some of the glory days whilst combining a love of magical mischief, you’re in the right place. Essentially, if you want the vibe of Harry Potter, without placing yourself within its actual halls, this is a good place to start.
If you’re already a player of D&D, this makes life particularly simple, because your mechanics remain as you’d expect, and there’s no significant changes to magic wielding as a result. There are no wands to be had, no sorting hat or cauldron needed, but where an undetectable extension charm on a pink beaded bag can be converted simply to a bag of holding, it’s a short leap from Strixhaven to Wizarding World.
CHOOSE YOUR RPG HOUSE
Use our roleplaying sorting hat to find the right RPG for you to begin your wizarding journey.
For the impulsive and courageous, if you want to hurtle head first into adventure with a bravery that overrides the “Let’s think about this first” voice, Dungeons & Dragons is perhaps the most readily available to delve into without further thought. Brave adventurers will create their characters around their house traits, but there’s no better moment to be had than being told to Roll for Initiative when you’re in the perfect combat position.
Those of loyalty and fairness would likely enjoy the tranquillity and considerations made in Inspirisles. A game in which your magic wielding can be linked to shapes – which are in turn, motions of sign language you make as you learn your way through the game – as well as hints and tips on running an exclusive game at its core – make it a perfect option. Plus, it’ll appeal to the finder instinct, as you’re off to a hidden land.
In a system that uses a lot of numbers, and a lot of options – more than once referred to as the Excel sheet version of a roleplaying game, though not with any malice – Call of Cthulhu is a great option for those motivated by learning and a desire to find out more. You could substitute in any investigatory style RPG (Vaesen could easily be another consideration), but the draw of the unknown mythos is just right for the bookworm out in the wild.
It may be the bad guy archetype that brings us to Blades in the Dark, but when in a practically lawless town, do as the practically lawless do – but better. Blades in the Dark is under no illusions that you’re a criminal, but it’s up to you to be self-preserving and thoughtful enough to call forth flashbacks to justify your sudden win, without becoming one for whom the bell tolls.
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