So, tomorrow half my group comes over for our first test of the conflict system in the Dresden Files RPG. It’s very similar to the Spirit of the Century system, but with a couple of tweaks to add a little detail (like weapons and armor) and scale up the grit a bit. It looks like DFRPG conflict is going to be a little nastier than SotC, more of a noire feel than a pulp one.

Both systems allow for different types of conflict. There’s the common physical conflict system (i.e. combat), of course. But they also allow conflict in the mental and social arenas. So yeah, your character can lose an argument by using the mechanics. Or get embarrassed in public. Stuff like that. There are rules for your confidence and your reputation taking a hit and affecting you throughout the game. Or longer. Man, I love the Aspect system in this game. That’s where this kind of flexibility comes from.

Anyway, these tests aren’t going to be a full-on game, just a stress test of the system. I’m coming up with one of each type of conflict, and we’re going to play through it, and see how it goes. Postmortem on the play, then maybe run them again to see if different choices in play make a big difference in the outcome or if the stats and skills on the character sheets determine winner. Depends on how much time we have.

All this means that, today, I’m trying to come up with one of each type of conflict to play through, based on the Magical Winnipeg setting and the characters we’ve created. The physical one is easy: I figure a bunch of Mad Cowz led by a hyena lycanthrope. I’m struggling a little with the mental and social conflicts, though. I’ve got a number of options, and I’m trying to work out which ones will work best for a group. Here’s what I’m toying with:


  • Arguing a case before the Council of Ghosts in the Vaughn Street Jail.
  • Out-thinking the Corn King spirit manipulating a corn maze on Hallowe’en and finding the way through to the centre.
  • A riddle contest with trickster faeries.
  • Persuading Operation Clean Sweep to hold back from a raid on a Manitoba Warriors club house until the Warriors take down a Mad Cowz shaman.


  • Negotiating a cease-fire between the Indian Posse and the Deuce.
  • Persuading a group of Gimli Einharjar to stop trashing a bar and go home.
  • Convincing the Spirit of Two Waters not to grant a boon to a necromancer.
  • Revealing a White Court Pentecostal preacher to his congregation as the emotion-sucking vampire he is.

Now, all these things are doable with the system (and how great is that?), but some are going to be more interesting than others. I’ve got to put together encounters where everyone has a chance to contribute, and not everything hinges on a single roll, or a single skill. While things like that might work in a normal game, it doesn’t fairly test the system, which is the point of all this. So, I’m thinking.

I’ll let you know what I come up with, and how people handle it.

Bits and Pieces

First off, a new character posted: Iris McPherson, another crazy street person, this one with an alien fixation.

Next, I noticed on some forums out there that people were a little disappointed that I haven’t dealt with the magic system yet. There’s a reason for that: it’s not done. We have, in fact, just received the first third of it – Supernatural Stunts. After that, we still need Spellcasting and Artifacts. Don’t worry; these will get extensive coverage as we test them.

Also, there have been some questions about release date. Now, I’m not privy to the discussions at Evil Hat, and I don’t make any decisions for them, so all I can tell you is what they’ve told me. There is no release date yet. Evil Hat is very committed to an extensive playtest to make sure the game is as good as it can be when it’s released. That’s going to take time, not because the game is bad, but because testing takes time. Might it be out by GenCon? I dunno. If I had to guess, I’d say that was pretty optimistic.

Finally, there have been some discussions where rules are reversed engineered from the characters I’ve posted. That’s cool, and some are pretty close to what we’ve been given. Keep in mind, though, that this is a very early stage of alpha testing. Things are going to change. What things? I don’t know, but they’re going to change.

Just sayin’.

A Rag-Tag Bunch of Misfits

So, I’ve mentioned my playtesters several times, but I haven’t told you about them.

Well, I don’t want to violate their privacy, so all you’re gonna get is their names and a  rundown of our general demographics.

Including me, there are nine people in this playtest: Chris, Sandy, Kieran, Penny, Vicky, Clint, Tom, Fera, and me. Four women, five men. Age ranges from mid-teens to mid-forties. There are members who have been gaming for just about three decades, and one member for whom this is the first RPG experience. Three people in the group run games on a regular basis.

And they’re all creative, energetic, and excited about the game.

Now, I sort of act as front-man for the group, but everyone reading this (and my official playtest reports to Evil Hat) needs to keep in mind that I’m not doing this alone. I couldn’t. Even if I tried, the results would be no where near as good without this dedicated group of gamers.

So, thanks, guys. You make this possible. You deserve the credit. Feel free to introduce yourselves through the comments, if you like. Feel free not to, if you don’t.

I’m just happy we get to play together.

Playtest Update

Just want to let you folks know the status of things, and our plans for the playtest over the next couple of weeks.

First, a couple of days ago, Evil Hat sent us two background chapters on the Dresdenverse. One is a Who’s Who of characters from the books, and the other is sort of a monster chapter – info on the types of bad guys that might come up.  I’ve distributed those to my playtesters, and we’re currently reading through them. They were written by Chad Underkoffler, who also used to write for Unknown Armies, so I know they’re going to be solid stuff.

Second, just tonight, Evil Hat sent us the chapter on supernatural stunts. There’s still the chapter on spellcasting and the one on artifacts to come, but this really puts us in a good position to start seeing how the magic works in the game.

Now, my plans.

Next week, I’m running a couple of sessions using only the mundane characters that have been created. It’s just a test of the conflict system – not a full game. So, I’m going to try to run one physical, one mental, and one social conflict in each session. If possible, we’ll rerun one or two of them, to see what effect different choices make.

A week or two after that, we’re going to get together and create supernatural characters, using the new rules.

Once that’s done, we’re actually going to run a couple of games – maybe two or three session arcs, seeing how the whole thing fits together. That’s the part I’m really looking forward to.

So, that’s what you can expect to see about the DFRPG over the next little while.

Oh, and I’ll continue posting characters as I receive them from my playtesters. I know it’s tough to wait, but it can be even tougher to get them to send them to me.

I Miss Studio 60

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was one of my favourite shows last year, and they canceled it on me.

Yeah, this is after the fact, and yeah, I know that nothing’s gonna bring it back, but I’ve just been really pining for it lately. And it got me thinking about why I like it, and other Aaron Sorkin shows.

The man’s got a formula for a show, and he seems to stick pretty close to it. Fortunately, I think it’s a pretty good formula, with a lot of flexibility and room for different stuff, but it’s still a formula. Here’s the Aaron Sorkin formula, as I have deciphered it:

  1. Make a bunch of really smart characters.
  2. Put them in a pressure cooker.
  3. Hilarity ensues.

Pretty straightforward, right? Let’s talk about each step.

Hey! It’s my blog! I’ll talk about whatever I want!

1. Make a bunch of really smart characters.

This seems like an easy step, but it’s not. See, Sorkin’s characters aren’t just smart, they’re very smart, but in realistic and believable ways. Also, and this is important, they’re different. So much TV just goes for geeky when they want a smart character – that’s lazy, it’s demeaning, and it has a limited shelf-life. Sure, if a character starts to develop a following, it’ll get fleshed out as the series goes on.

Sorkin doesn’t like that short cut, it seems. His smart characters are not universally geeky. They are like smart people in the real world – successful. They are smart enough to do complex, high-pressure jobs, smart enough to know that they need social skills, and smart enough to dress like real people. Sure, they have their little quirks, but they’re human quirks, quirks we can recognize and identify with.

Matt and Danny in Studio 60 are a perfect example of this. They are both smart, successful guys who can, between them, run a TV show or movie production. Sure, Danny’s a bit of a control freak, and Matt can’t let go of an old girlfriend, and they both hate being told what to do, but they are not geeks and they are not the same. They complement each other, and create an interesting dynamic on screen.

And, even without the pocket protectors, you never doubt that they’re smart, even if they do something stupid from time to time, as we all do.

2. Put them in a pressure cooker.

Sports Night. The West Wing. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. They all revolve around high-pressure jobs, with the characters constantly struggling to put out the fires that keep cropping up. Why?

Stress allows you to explore characters. Characters are at their most interesting when they react under pressure. It’s an old formula. It lets you delve into their personalities, because hidden feelings and thoughts often come out during stressful periods.

Also, it gives you a constant stream of plots. If you establish that a given situation believably has time-sensitive, high-stakes things cropping up all the time (White House, TV production, etc.), then you’ve got a ready-made excuse for whatever you want to throw into the mix. You’ve laid the groundwork (We’ve got to write, rehearse, produce, and broadcast an hour-long sketch comedy show once a week, and the network wants to fire us, and all the actors are nuts, and public relations is a mess, and…), so no one in the audience bats an eye when the Nevada cops come in and arrest one of the actors and drags him off to Pahrump, or all the writers quit overnight.

It’s a bit of a cheat, as well. It allows you to focus on just certain aspects of the world and the characters. You don’t see much of the lives of the characters outside of work. You don’t meet many extraneous characters. You only get the news that affects the show. It gives a believably narrow focus, allowing you to just tell the story you want to tell.

3. Hilarity ensues.

So, now you have smart characters, and situations for them to react to. Go to town.

The nice thing about this combination is that the events can be completely unexpected, because you’ve already set up the expectation of surprises. It gives you a real flexibility to pick and choose what events spawn the stories. And, because the characters are smart, they can respond in a wide variety of ways. Smart characters just naturally have more choices in ways to think about, feel about, and respond to things.

The core of drama is having something be both surprising and inevitable. That means that what you see has to catch you off-guard in some way, but still fit completely with what has gone before. In short, it has to make sense. This is the hilarity ensuing.

It doesn’t have to be hilarious, by the way. Drama works just as well. And Sorkin always seems to have a deft touch in the mixing of the two.

So, that’s why I liked Studio 60, now gone before its time. At least with The West Wing, we got seven seasons.

Oh, well. I’m looking forward to whatever Sorkin does next.

Character Creation

About ten days ago, the fine folks at Evil Hat provided us with a big chunk of rules for the game. Enough, in fact, to run character creation, as long as we stuck to mundane types.

Why just mundane? Two reasons. One, they’re still working on the section for supernatural characters. Two, they want mundane characters to be viable in the system.

Yeah. They want to make it as good a game choice to play Murphy as it is to play Harry.  They’ve got an interesting balance mechanic for this that seems, right now, to work fairly well. It has to do with paying for Stunts with Refresh Rate.

What does that mean? It means that the more Stunts (which let you stretch the rules to your advantage in very specific ways) you have, the fewer Fate Points (which let you stretch the rules to your advantage in more general ways) you start each game session with. Mundane Stunts cost less than supernatural Stunts, so mundane characters will tend to have higher Refresh Rates than supernatural ones.

It looks not only workable, but truly inspired. Of course, this is early in the playtest, so things may change.


Character creation works similarly to Spirit of the Century, which you can see here, with some variations to make the system fit the setting a little better. You pick Aspects for different parts of your character’s history, pick Skills, pick Stunts, star in a novel, guest star in other novels, and you’re set.

The character creation of Spirit of the Century was one of the things (one of the many things) about that game that completely blew me away, so it’s nice to see the best parts of it live on in Dresden Files. You do character creation as a group, and you help each other with your characters. Discussion of Aspects, background, good Skill and Stunt choices, and pretty much every other part of the character really helps you zero in on getting the character you want to play.

But the sweetest, most brilliant touch has to be the novels.

Everyone makes up the title of a novel starring their character. Then they write a brief (I restrict it to a single sentence) set-up of the novel. Then they write a brief (again, I impose a limit of a single sentence) account of what their character does in the novel.

Pretty cool so far, right? Just wait.

Now that you’ve done that, you swap novels with each other. You get to guest star in another character’s novel, adding a sentence about how your character helps out in their story. And then you swap again, and guest star in someone else’s novel.

Why do I think that’s so cool? Because of too many games where the characters meet in a bar as strangers and decide to trust each other with their lives. Because of too many games where people hang together because they’re PCs, and no other reason.

Here, characters have a history with at least two other characters. They know each other. They’ve worked together. They have a reason to get together and trust each other.

And it’s just bloody fun. Try it. Check out some of the novels and characters from my Spirit of the Century Pick-Up League site. They rock.

So, we wound up with a nice batch of characters, ranging from crazy street people looked after by faeries to cops in the organized crime unit, from nightclub bouncers to victims of White Court vampire preachers.

Everyone was quite pleased with their character. They’re really looking forward to trying the combat system (we’ve got the bare bones, and that’s the next step), and to creating some supernatural characters (when we get the rules).

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Magical Winnipeg

Okay, so the new Dresden Files RPG has a system in it for converting your hometown into a playable setting for the game. Well, less a system than a structure for brainstorming and relating ideas. It’s quite good. We tried it as a group in our playtest, and managed to turn Winnipeg, Manitoba into a city where we could all see adventures to run and characters to play. I thought it was pretty impressive.

So, here‘s what we came up with.