Gray clouds hung low all over the city this Friday the 13th, and a chill was in the air. After days of unseasonable heat, the rain was a welcome relief. The roads were slick with salt, sand and oil. Take that scene and now add belching smokestacks, motor cars, trains, trolleys and horse drawn carriages, with the ever-present looming fear of war. It was England 1938, and a crowd of eleven year olds waited at train station gate 9-3/4 on this cold dawn. The night before, Neville Chamberlain gave a capitulatory speech entitled “Peace in our Time.”
The first thing we did was to take out a blank sheet of paper and write the following, in order: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Then we rolled 3d6, added the result, and wrote the number next to the correspnonding ability, six times, until we had our scores. Then put parentheses next to this number and after it write a 5. After the five, they could write in any ability modifier the number in parentheses might give. For example, having a strength of 12-13 gave +1, 14-15 gave +2, 16-17 gave +3, and 8 gave +4, same with all the other ability scores. Put a “+” symbol between the 5 and any modifiers receivde and add them together for the final starting ability scores. This gave everyone a range of 5-7 in their ability scores, with an occasional 8 and almost no 9′s. Which sounds great for a group of 11 year olds. (The characters not the players, heh.)
Throughout their school career they will attend classes that allow them to raise their ability scores to the numbers they want, thus they will end up with a semi-perfectly arranged final set of ability scores. I told them beforehand this was sort of like “0 level” pre-game, meant to build up role playing and team building, and that eventually we would all be transported back to normal d&d where they could play the races and classes they wanted (with the personality from the Hogwarts WW2 pre-game characters) from any edition, or of their own devising.
Waiting at the train station is how the game began. Suddenly a tall dark figure apparated before them, in black robes and with a a tall pointed black hat, to match his black beard and arched black eyebrows. He scanned them all critically over his beaked nose. “I am Professor Von Rippenspine, and I hope that none of you sorry lot find youselves in House Slytherin, hmpph. Very well, in line, march like soldiers, we have supplies to get before the train arrives. We are on a war footing, even you young witches and wizards.”
The group of forty students marched through the streets of England to Diagon Alley, where they were treated like new draftee’s in an assembly line. Each received a wand from a a stack of plain gray boxes, then they had to grab small covered cages for their familiars (most got rats or toads). Finally they were sized for robes, got their books, for which all of them, even the richest, ended up owing a “Tab” to the school purser, of which Von Rippenspine made detailed records.
They then took the train to Hogwarts. Along the ride, the (soon-to-be-) party shared a cabin with seven dwarves – er – seven swarthy siblings. Each of them ore freshly shaved stubbly on their fat cheeks, even the sister, Tohat, who wore a pink dress under her robes. Lokat Deepmittens did most of the speaking for his six brothers, with a heavy scottish brogue. He liked to say stuff like “Dont’cha just love the feelin’ o a fresh breeze on a clean shaven cheek?”
All the candy was made of leaves, and no one really wanted any. I don’t know where that came from.
Eventually the students arrived at Hogwarts and were greeted at the train station by a large Panda. He insisted they call him Mr. Panda, being the groundskeeper, and helped them to load boats and cross the lake. The new students arrived at the boathouse and made their way up into the main castle Hogawrts. They waited outside the great hall as the four tables filled with upper classmen: Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, Gryffindor.
Soon the sorting hat was brought out, and a new figure came along to take charge of the new students. He was the retired Quidditch version of Babe Ruth, named Saxton Hamm, the Castle Caretaker. He led them into the main hall, where each of the students was inducted into the House as determined by the sorting hat. Having gleaned the internet for dozens of Sorting Hat Quizzes and questionnaires, I had a pretty strong suit of questions to use, and each of the players had their character sorted into a House. Judging my accuracy, I can only say that none of the players opted to switch houses, though they were given an in-game reason for allowing such a circumstance.
Next up, Dave’s character Bruce Rupert Murdoch the Australian was sentenced almost directly after two failed questions into Hufflepuff. Favorite color being brown was all it took, Dave, sorry. All seven dwarves – er- long torsoed, short limbed youngsters were also sent into Hufflepuff.
Lori’s girl Gwendolyn Weasley shocked the magical world when she ended up in Ravenclaw, the first among Weasleys never to attend Gryffindor.
Khar’s girl chose Slytherin after a difficult initial assessment, when she picked snaking river or lush forest.
Beth’s japanese girl was sent quickly into Ravenclaw. Her father was the ambassador to Japan, and married to a Japanese lady.
Jack’s character Ivan Pachenko was from recently annex Czechoslovakia, and his father was a teacher at the school, allowing him admittance. He was sent to Gryffindor.
Finally John Smith the englishman, was sent to Ravenclaw in short order.
With the sorting done, the feast began, and as the children ate, they were introduced to the head of each school. They already new the Austrian Von Rippenspine of Slytherin. Next to him at the head of the table sat Sir Arthur Conan Pendragon Doyle of the Pendragon Doyles, not to be confused with the Pendragon-Doyles, a lesser branch of the Pendragons. Next to him sat Mrs. Muffintop, head of Hufflepuff, and finally at the end of the table sat the mysterious Lady Maria Sharia Santiago, concealed by perpetually wafting veils and scarves of insubstantial material.
Finally the headmaster emerges froma curtain parting in the back wall. It is the famous wizard Albert Einstein Jr. illegitimate son of the great physicist, conceived while on holiday in jolly London, and treated as a national asset since the day he was born. He was recently made headmaster after the unfortunate demise of its predecessor over summer break. The young thirty-year-old wizard walked into the chamber with dozens of scrolls swirling around him. Every few seconds he would zap one idly with hos wand to keep it afloat, and was constanly scribbling on the scrolls as they passed through his hands like a juggler.
Sir Pendragon Doyle explained how the great Wizard Einstein was attempting to create the fabled “Something From Nothing” spell, and with it, they would win the upcoming war. Einstein was mumbling spell words and accidentally created a piano just above his head. It was safely stopped before crashing down on top of the distracted wizard. A student was dispatched to send it back to the house down the road from which it must have come.
To the side at a little table next to them sat Mr. Panda and Saxton “Babe Ruth of Quidditch” Hamm. Other teachers to be named later sat along other benches as well as a few hundred students. I, the humble DM, was woefully unprepared for the start of this campaign, and my improvisational skills were shall we say, slightly diminished than usual, leading to a bunch of lameness and emptiness that will be filled in in the Fridays to come. In short, I only have so much mental energy and it must be used sparingly or it goes empty, like a car running out of gas. So what follows becomes increasingly absurd.
After the feast, as the new students were leaving the hall, the characters of this campaign along with the seven Deepmitten siblings, were pulled aside by the headmasters and told they have a special task. The Headmaster Albert Einstein Jr. needed special assistants to follow him around wherever he went, and the party would form one group. The Deepmittens would form the second group, and each would take turns helping keep pianos off the headmaster while not in class. Once Einstein perfected th ecreation of pianos from nothing, he would move onto to other items. So far all the pianos were from nearby homes and once, a church organ.
Thus they were sent to bed, and the next day was charms class. The teacher was Madam something, and tried to teach the students the 0 level cantrip Ghost Sound. Some of the students got it. A few weeks later, the Head master assigned the students some extra homework. he needed a spell called the “Zero Mass” spell, and sent them to the library to find it.
They discovered, while perusing the History section (and a few of them gained the history skill) that the “Zero Mass Spell” was known to only one wizard – Merlin the great, and that the wizard said he would take the spell with him to the grave. Beth’s character thought he might have it with him in his coffin, and she discovered that Merlin was buried under Robin Hood Hill in the Sherwood Forest. Reporting all this to Professor Einstein, he said they must retrieve it over Christmas break, and that Merlin might have cast a “Never Spoil”spell on his brain, so to retrieve the scroll as well as the brain. All righty then.
That night was astronomy skill, which was a bonus ability score check. The players could choose any one ability score and make a check by rolling under it. If they succeeded, they got to raise that score by one.
The big news the next day was that in Germany an event known as Crystallnacht had taken place the night before – where the homes, businesses, and lives of jewish people were broken into and damaged or destroyed. That evening they were in the courtyard when the heard Von Rippenspine defending Germany. Suddenly everyone pet was becoming agitated, and each of them had to make a skill Check (and roll above a 15 on a die roll). Those that succeeded gained the animal handling skill. Jacks character failed so miserably his rat got loose and began running between the Slytherin’s Headmaster’s legs. Ivan went to retrieve him and amazingly wove between the teachers legs without disturbing him and caught his errant rat.
Meanwhile young Australian Bruce Rupert Murdoch could stand no more of Von Rippenspine’s bile spewing, and challenged him, but rolling an intimidate and failing miserably only caught the teachers ire, who docked Hufflepuff 10 points,b ut thankfully shut up.
There was one more Charms class, where a few people were able to learn the 0 level cantrip Dancing Lights which a few people were able to learn. I make the players point with a pretend wand while shouting off faux latin phrases, as well as make an arcane check, so casting a spell successfully can be a bit difficult at times.
I think we ended there, except that the seven dwarves asked for some tutoring, and they agreed to meet in the east training rooms the following midnight.