Gaming Harry Potters World, Part I

Quite a few people want to play games set in Harry Potters universe.

The trouble there is that the books really don’t provide all that much detail on anywhere but Hogwarts and on any events save those immediately surrounding Harry Potter. That’s more or less to be expected of course – but Harry Potter shuts down the only major villain who gets more than a brief mention, AND eliminates most of his henchmen, AND seems to get the government straightened out along he way. All is well. What does that leave for the player characters to do?

We really need a little more detail on the world and some explanations. Fortunately, the author HAS provided a few very important background details to extrapolate from.

First, and by far the most importantly… we have an authors estimate for the total number of witches and wizards in Britain. It’s about 3000. Roughly one wizard for every 21,000 muggles.

That number tells us a LOT.

After all, we know that witches and wizards can live long healthy lives – far longer than muggles with the right magic (for easy calculation, lets call it a hundred years). The Weasleys show us that they can have large families – although we also see quite a few one-child families. Magic can quickly heal many conditions that muggle medicine cannot, it lets you escape most ordinary dangers with ease, it can help you obtain food, shelter, funds, transport, and many other basic necessities with little difficulty. It can even extend your life. Magic users pop up in the muggle population “fairly commonly”. Non-magic users (“Squibs”) rarely appear in magic-user families. Magic use is thus at least partially hereditary and certainly appears to be a hugely advantageous trait; magic-users can do almost everything a muggle can and more – even if magic use seems to interfere with electrical devices (which is a very modern problem and unlikely to prove overly hazardous to life and limb).

Yet magic-users are on the verge of extinction. Their numbers are so small that a single school – apparently taking in twenty to forty students a year – (thirty kids x seventeen years to adulthood = 510 or so students) can reasonably teach all the magic-user kids in Britain. Yet, as a percentage of the population, magic-users must have been far more numerous in the past. Hogwarts is supposed to be more than a thousand years old. If wizards and witches occurred at the same rate to muggles in 1000 AD then there would have been about a hundred and fifty of them in all Britain – and an average of one or two kids a year. Even with a seven year program and cutting down the lifespan (perhaps to 50 years?) to double the birth rate that’s not going to call for much of a school.

*It’s noted that a quarter of the stadium, numbering about 200, was supporting Slytherin at a Quidditch match – but this number may well include alumni and parents.

So we know that muggle populations have been soaring (up by a factor of twenty) while magic-using populations have been – at best – holding steady in raw numbers and rapidly declining as a percentage of the overall population. And that’s DESPITE muggles having magic-user children and thus making an ever-increasing contribution to the magic-user population. That alone neatly demonstrates that the magic-users have not been breeding successfully enough to maintain their own populations.

At least that neatly explains why so many of the “pureblood” houses are near-extinct and why even the “healthy” ones rarely seem to have more than a dozen members. It also neatly explains why so many important magics are more or less things of the past; it’s because a smaller and smaller population will toss up fewer and fewer major talents.

Given those numbers, being a magic-user in the modern world must actually be hugely disadvantageous in terms of survival or reproduction compared to being a muggle – and yet it doesn’t seem to be for older kids and adults. That leaves only one real possibility; an awful lot of magic-user infants and/or smaller children die of magical complications early on – whether that means accidents with their own magic, attracting magical menaces, or weird magical illnesses that older magic-users cannot cure.

Why does every magic user go to Diagon Alley to shop? It’s because, with a population that small, it’s likely to be the only real wizards market in the country – and even IT is centered on a goblin institution. That’s also why there’s only one magic-user hospital mentioned (and it seems to serve as a lunatic asylum too), why Hogsmeade is the ONLY all magic-user village in Britain, and why few other locations even get a mention. Why does the Knight Bus run all over the country? Perhaps because a single bus per shift is enough to handle the entire magic-using populations mass transit needs.

Why is the Ministry of Magic so… ineffectual and easily manipulated? Perhaps because most of those “employees” are constructs and because the pool of administrative talent it draws on is too shallow to have a wading section? When you’ve only got about 2500 adults – including the elderly and retired, the ill, the insane, and the ones in jail – to pick from you won’t have very many who can handle any particular specialized job. Especially with a Hogwarts education. The place teaches magic, not statistics, logistics, administration, engineering, or a lot in the way of practical management skills. Even if we throw in some speculative post-graduate courses this is a culture where the vast majority of the kids complete their educations at seventeen.

Why is the wizard government so stuck in the past, obsessed with precedent, and uninterested in current events? And why is it so large? After all, we’re told that the Wizengamot has “around fifty members” and there seem to be other bodies. That’s a LOT of government for a population that would barely make a small town even if most of them do nothing but talk.

Wait… “Nothing but talk” and “focused on the past”. Doesn’t this behavior sound familiar? Rather a lot like… one Professor Cuthbert Binns. And it’s not like the magical government had a lot to do in the first place, or that a population of 3000 is going to produce dozens of would-be bureaucrats clamoring to replace them. Quite a lot of politicians try to hang onto office until they die. Perhaps most of the magic-user government is made up of ghosts? It’s not like hanging onto their office at all costs is unfamiliar behavior for politicians and petty bureaucrats. Why should mere death stop them?

Why is magical Britain’s entire monetary system run by goblins? Perhaps because it’s actually the GOBLINS monetary system, and they’re simply allowing the wizards and witches to use it? They certainly don’t seem to give the witches and wizards any great level of respect. Importantly, the goblins also seem to be able to do currency exchanges – and they haven’t allowed their economy to be swamped by modern mining techniques or things like synthetic gemstones either through direct exchange or by some muggle-born wizard cleaning out Fort Knox or De Beers. It’s likely that the goblin cartel quietly provides magical security for the crown jewels of England and Fort Knox and similar hordes of the few things which both magic-users and muggles see as “treasure” all over the world in exchange for such considerations.

Why is a small clique of nasty wizards a threat to the entire country? After all… it’s clearly shown that even not-too-bright and generally ineffectual wizard kids can unleash virtually inextinguishable fires, death spells, and hideous curses. Why aren’t serious magic-user fights all essentially quick-draw contests decided by who shot first? Nobody can win those ALL the time – but if there ARE only a hundred or so combative magic-users in the country… twenty or thirty well-organized and trained ones are a pretty major threat.

Why aren’t ethical wizards out there curing diseases, solving problems, and otherwise helping out the muggle population? It’s because there aren’t enough of them to make any difference – and likely because most of the tiny magic-user population is too isolated from muggle society to have any idea what is going on. Why else have “muggle studies” instead of going out and looking around?

Why are the witches and wizards so reclusive and set on hiding from the muggles? It’s because the muggles could readily wipe them out if they were aware of them and got upset. Yes, magic is nifty – but when you’re outnumbered thousands to one, can’t maintain your own population without recruits from the “enemy” camp, and your enemy has nifty tricks too… you can’t afford to make yourself a target. Sure, Voldemort may have wanted to rule the muggle world too – but no one ever said that that was a PRACTICAL ambition. Maybe he was just upset and frustrated about that? Or maybe he just didn’t think it through. It would hardly be the only thing that he didn’t understand.

Why are witches and wizards so mired in the past in technological terms? It’s because they separate themselves from the general population and there aren’t enough of them to advance independently. You’ll note that wizard trading cards, and trains, and many other items are distorted copies of muggle innovations – probably brought in by muggle-born witches and wizards.

Why is Hogwarts basically a fortification anyway? And why does no one object to sending their kids to a boarding school for much of each year? A lot of parents like to see their kids more often than that! Is it because those rare magic-using kids who survive long enough to go to school are considered worth protecting in every way possible? Was Harry Potter fostered with muggles both to protect him from his enemies and to give him the best chance of making it to school age by suppressing his magic as much as possible?

Magical creatures – dragons, basilisks, phoenixes, giant spiders, and many more – are very hard to stop, even for Wizards. And they seem to have sustainable breeding populations – almost certainly outnumbering the magic-users, since they can’t adopt magically-active muggleborn children. With only a few thousand adult witches and wizards in Britain there aren’t enough witches and wizards to restrain them all, or to cover up something like a dragon attacking London – yet that kind of thing never seems to happen. In fact, dragons can be shipped to reservations and will stay there. Unicorns don’t wander off either. The Forbidden Forest is full of monsters, but they stay there instead of wandering off to terrorize the muggles.

So what confines them? No one seems to be actively doing it, so evidently there are some places where magical creatures can be put and where they will simply instinctively stay. Moreover, you don’t get muggles taking snapshots of them. Evidently the muggles know where to stay away from without being taught – in other words, by instinct. It looks like magical plants and creatures stay in magical areas unless forced to go elsewhere – while muggles stay out of magical areas unless forced into them.

And that’s how magic-users and magical creatures can stay out of the way. All they have to do is run off, confuse, divert, or kill the occasional really DETERMINED muggle, and they’re home free. They can be as lost as isolated as they wish (a small amount of high-level official contact – likely trading magical services for special considerations – is almost inevitable), even as the muggles utterly dominate the world.

That also tells us that once magic was far, FAR, more important, if only because it was far, far, more common in the population. Magic-users could deal with magical monsters, were the only effective sources of medicine, and were the only ones who could help in bad years. Any muggle child who showed signs of magical aptitude could expect to be sent to the magic-users for training.

But the world changed. The growth of technology made magic less of an advantage, provided a lot of the services that once only magic had been able to provide – and let the muggles take effective stands against both magical menaces and magic-users. From the timing… early firearms may have been the last straw for the age of magic. Now targets as much as resources, the magic-users fell back on the patches of enchanted land that the muggles instinctively shied away from, unknowingly purchasing safety for their adult population at the cost of exposing their magical children to far greater magical hazards and of abandoning many potential muggle-born recruits. The muggle population boomed, while the magic-user population… stayed static or declined, fell behind, and became almost irrelevant.

Today it’s become near-impossible to hide without the cooperation of the major governments. Sure, you might be able to throw up concealment spells to stop satellite surveillance – but would most magic-users even realize that it was necessary? Can you catch ALL the cell-phone videos before they get a million views on youtube?

Fortunately… that cooperation has been there for a long time. That was only “almost irrelevant”. When a muggle government or organization had a problem with a stray ghost, vampire, dementor, or similar horror, or needed something to keep a renegade magic-user from teleporting into their vault and making off with half their treasury, or some such… allowing small magical communities to do their own thing in exchange for occasional magical services looked like a pretty good deal.

And that’s how “3000″ gives us a world of small, hidden, villages who’s children are threatened by magical horrors, where secretive organizations and government agencies employ small cadres of magical agents in secret battles and missions, where a handful of heroes or villains can change the fate of the world, where it is near-useless to turn to the hidebound magical government or it’s ineffectual agencies (even if they aren’t part of the problem to start with), where wealth is gold, gems, and flickering electronic transactions, where wizard-gunslingers do battle with dark near-immortals (this isn’t a kids book; a few murders is a CHEAP price for coming back from death), where magic-user children who were never found and trained grow up to be poorly-controlled psychics and self-taught mystics, where occasional magical monsters sent into muggle areas must be caught and covered up, and where the occasional bit of magical espionage or theft leaves the common muggle authorities flummoxed and sends the handful of magic-users that deal with magical crimes in the muggle world running across the country.

OK, I think this world may have room for some player characters after all.

3 Responses

  1. Eh, I think the weasley’s existence is at least a strong indication that this isn’t actually the case. The weasely have like half-a-dozen kids with in less than ten years of each other, and it certainly isn’t treated like a ludicrous freak of nature for that to happen.
    There’s also a more or less expected number of siblings and such in the harry potter books, which seems like isn’t something that would happen in that case.
    Honestly, I get why you are making that claim, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case.

  2. […] for today it’s a question about a Harry Potter article (and II and III) – and why it assumed that the Wizarding Population was fairly […]

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