Friday, July 22, 2011

Harry Potter Setting Riff - The Silent Castle.

As a belated homage to the end of the Harry Potter series (and as a tribute to my favorite of the eight movies), HP 7 - part 2 had my mind running wild with What-If's and Elseworlds stories that, if tweaked just a tiny bit, could turn into one helluva fun setting for a one-shot game. Today I want to focus on one thought I had for a far-future adventure set in the HP world. I'm going to warn you that my HP appreciating nerdiness is going to shine through brightly here, but forgive me a bit of indulgence. My favorite sequence both in the movies and the books is going to be discussed with a bit of detail below right alongside some other spoilers from the whole series, so if you've been waiting to read the books or haven't seen the movie and don't want anything spoiled for you, don't read more! If this doesn't apply, come join me for a dark vision of the future of Hogwarts...

It all began when the Dark Lord won.

History is sketchy beyond this point, but rumors run strong and the present state of things speaks for itself. What we know is that there was a battle at the greatest school in all of history. It was like no other school and its students were like no other children. While the mundane training institutions in these old days had yet to adopt the teaching of survival and strength of arms, this special school, placed deep in the country with the facade of an ancient castle, taught the young manipulators of magic to be living weapons. Armed with little more than a bit of wood, these sorcerers were trained to create enormous barriers, turn living beings into harmless inanimate objects, and indeed to kill with a single word and a flick of the wrist.

It would not be enough to save them.

There was a boy wizard, a messiah, who had survived assault from the Dark Lord just as a babe in a basket. Impossibly, the students in the castle put all their hopes and optimism into the boy. He was gifted, no doubt, and showed a tremendous aptitude in all manners of magical studies. He raised an army in those walls of young child soldiers and taught them all the tricks he learned in his arcane, secret ways. He had friends, mentors, and family - all adopted and drawn to him purely based on the goodness they saw within him. They loved him and sought his counsel.

He would not be enough to save them.

After years of hunting and taunting the boy messiah, the Dark Lord besieged the castle with hundreds of his followers, both human and of less... savory variety of species. The few teachers who remained in the castle loyal to the boy routed the Dark Lord's followers from the school grounds and hastily set what defenses they could muster while the invading army waited patiently for the Dark Lord's order to attack. Finally the assault commenced and the walls of the castle shook as the Dark Lord himself released the first volley of his sorcerous blight. The students, emboldened by the call of action long-awaited fought more valiantly than the Dark Lord predicted. Regardless, the army soon tore the defending school children to shreds. In one last desperate bid to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, the young savior challenged the Dark Lord to a dual of magics to once and for all decide their conflict.

The children and the boy's few surviving allies regrouped and rallied in this respite. Hope flickered to life in their eyes as they dared to believe that some miracle would save them and validate their faith in the boy. Those few who wrote after that day of what they witnessed vary in their reports, but most believe the statements that the boy was not defeated outright but rather utilized what defenses he could summon to delay the Dark Lord long enough to make it interesting and to ignite the hopes of his followers. Alas, he could do little more than defend himself before his inevitable fall. And fall he did. The ensuing battle cost the Dark Lord more that day than any other in his entire reign for the fallen messiah's followers gave into rage and desperation and lashed out with uncontrolled and unfocused magic that would bring about the ruin of all but the most powerful and dangerous of his dark forces.

Hundreds of young wizards died that day, and the Dark Lord relished in each loss of defiant life. He sealed the school off from the outside world, trapping the many souls of the students forever within its walls. With the only force large enough to oppose him destroyed, the Dark Lord set sites on the larger world. It would not be enough to reign over his fellow wizards and witches. His influence spread quickly and efficiently through the mundane world. The nations of man were conquered before they even realized what dangers they faced.

With the Dark Lord in complete control of the world, he began making changes. First, he outlawed the use of the killing word to all but himself. He put up wards that would redirect the spell back toward its caster making the casting of it equal to suicide. Fearing that the mundane technologies established without the use of magic could some day rival his own power, he systematically dismantles the great research centers of the world and instead encouraged a following and belief in slightly altered versions of the world's religions. Many technologies became shunned and feared by those who could not practice real magic.

Eventually the Dark Lord passed after two or three centuries of his reign. There are no details recorded regarding the nature of his death although every historian appears to have their own theory. Near the end of his reign, when his reach grew weak and short-sighted, the ancient castle gained word of mouth as a place of safety and worship in the new world religion. At first the pilgrimage was small, but soon after large groups of believers came to gather and build shanty towns around the silent castle. Eventually a city grew out of these meager settlements and the town of Hogwarts was born. Though misguided by the false scriptures of the Dark Lord, the city carried a noble presence and was a safe haven from the otherwise savage and unpredictable wild lands beyond its borders left behind in the wake of the Dark Lord's passing.

Then the seal was broken and the castle awoke.

The entire town of Hogwarts was wiped out as the blast from the Dark Lord's ancient spell finally shattered and killed everything in its path. The horrors unleashed upon the citizenry of the great city may never truly be relayed, but those who wish to investigate the ruins best be prepared to encounter the lingering remains of the devastating shock wave. The city stands decrepit and in ruin, with many secrets remaining hidden behind locked doors and deep within hidden trunks. In the years following the decimation of the city, rumor has spread of bold and powerful wizards - both ancient and young - braving the dangerous ruins to plunder the uncountable treasures of arcane knowledge trapped within the castle walls all these years. Many have entered the school, few, if any, are reported to have escaped its grip.

So that's it! The whole premise! If you've made it this far, good for you! This all stems from the idea of turning Hogwarts into a giant dungeon full of wizards who have snagged a bit of unknown power from items and knowledge that has had centuries to sit and gain power while the school was sealed from intruders by Voldemort after the Battle of Hogwarts. As you may have guessed, the ultimate treasure is indeed hidden away within one specific book - the diary of Snape. Every wizard seeks the secret "word of death" a.k.a. Avada Kedavra which Voldemort made extinct in his paranoia during his reign. Another thread would be finding the secret to Voldemort's death. Perhaps, late in life, he sought to find one last Horcrux hidden away within the walls of Hogwarts, and somehow perished in his pursuit?

My vision for this would be in some kind of traditional dungeon-crawling game. It's in the far future, but it's definitely a low-to-no-tech fantasy setting since Voldemort pretty much stopped science and technology all together as another aspect of his paranoid fears of losing power. If I were to design it as a dungeon, I have a vision of a series of boss fights with familiar rooms and places as the different rooms for the fights. Each boss fight is either a future wizard who found a bit of arcane knowledge or an ancient artifact and uses it now to great effect, or the boss could be a ghost from the Battle of Hogwarts of one of the more famous characters if you want to get nostalgic. Or maybe it'd be something else. Think about Remus Lupin for example (one of my favorite characters from the books). Maybe he didn't die but rather was simply extremely hurt, and by the the next full moon, raised up and has some how survived to this day, stuck in his werewolf form and growing more powerful all the time?

Although this looks like a lot of work, it was a ton of fun to do. Harry Potter always felt like one of the greatest settings that was just slightly squandered by Rowling for a children's book series. Don't get me wrong, I like the books, but I've always wanted a mature story for the world. If you're interested in playing a more traditional vision of Harry Potter, I would also recommend my Remember Tomorrow hack - Remember Your Wand for a quick, lite GM-less game set in the Harry Potter universe. In case it needs to be said, this is all fan work, and obviously Rowling and anyone else who holds the rights to these properties retain it all - I don't own nuthin' here!


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