Fearful Symmetries: Background

I had a bit of an eye-opener these past couple of weeks. I’ve been working on typing up the notes and brainstorming we did for creating Prague in 1620 for the Fearful Symmetries game, and the sheer amount of material that came out of those discussions is a little daunting.

We spent about four hours doing the city creation. I’ve got over 20 pages of material from that time.

It’s a little overwhelming, and also, I think, a wonderful testament to the ease and value of the city creation process in DFRPG. Also, to the very creative and enthusiastic players I’ve got.

Now, I’m going to link in the .pdf of our setting bible, but I want to talk about some of the things we did with it, first.

1. Transparency

One of the things I was wary about with collaborative setting construction is the fact that the players know a lot of the big secrets and threats of the campaign right from the get-go. I’m changing my mind about this. I was, I now consider, wrong to worry. Maybe it’s just my players, but they don’t seem to have much of a problem keeping player knowledge separate from character knowledge, especially (and this is a key point) if they know how cool it will be when their characters find stuff out.

Yeah, the players know that the Sedlec Ossuary is a hotly-contested piece of real estate between a cabal of necromancers and some gypsy clans dedicated to the mysteries of Osiris and Anubis. And they think that’s a cool thing to have – after all, they came up with the idea. But their characters don’t know, and the details are left up to me as GM to flesh out, so they get the pleasure of having their characters drawn into the battle unawares, and can still be surprised by some of the twists and turns.

I wanted to see if being completely open during the city creation heightened or lessened the interest level: if the players knew all the big secrets, would that mean the game wasn’t interesting for them. Well, we’ve only played one session so far, but I’m coming down firmly on the side of it heightening interest. And a lot of that has to do with the next point.

2. Investment

Wow. Getting the players to decide what goes into the mix in the city, who the main bad guys are, what the power structure is like, and what places are important: golden. I sat back and let them do most of the fleshing out of things during city creation, adding (as I recall) one theme, the suggestion of a few locations, and some brainstorming on appropriate Aspects. The rest is all them.

This does more than just take a lot of the burden for setting creation off the GM; it also makes sure that the elements of the setting are all things the players think are interesting, that they care about. That they want to have as part of their characters’ story. Now, both my players made characters newly-come (or returned) to Prague, so they are not hooked right in to the current situation, but because the players built the current situation, there are numerous things to hook them (both characters and players) into the stories. Things that allow for quick emotional investment right off the hop.

What this means for a GM is that, as long as you use the elements of the setting that the players have created and link them to the characters (and Your Story has a whole chapter on how to do that using Aspects), you’re pretty much guaranteed to come up with a basis for a scenario that will capture the attention and interest of your players.

3. Dramatic License

No one in my group is an expert on the Thirty Years’ War. We’ve done some cursory research, and Clint knows a lot about pretty much everything, but we’re not going for complete historical accuracy in the setting. Of course we aren’t – it’s a fantasy game. So, we’ve played a little fast and loose with both history and geography. Some examples:

  • I couldn’t find the name of the Lord Mayor of Prague in 1620 – there may not have been one, for all I know. So, I made up the name, taking the first name from one Mayor listed on Wikipedia and the last name from another.
  • Zuckerbastl was the name of the man running the thieves in Hradcany around 1610. We wanted a King of Thieves for Old Town in 1620, so we transplanted him.
  • I couldn’t find any real geographic information about White Mountain, where an important battle takes place in November 1620, so I just made it all up.
  • I get frustrated trying to use all the proper diacritical marks in the proper Czech and Slavic names, so I’m ignoring them.

The idea, of course, is to create a gameable setting with the flavour of the time and place you want. And that’s what we did. So, for any real experts on the Thirty Years’ War, or 17th-century Prague, or any native speakers of the language, there are lots of grievous errors and things that we just out-and-out changed. No offense is intended. It’s just a game.

We also deviate a bit from the Dresden Files canon. We’re using it as a starting place, but we’re trying to establish what the milieu would have been like in 1620 Bohemia. So, I’ve been re-reading The War Hound and the World’s Pain by Michael Moorcock, which is the only fantasy novel set during the Thirty Years’ War that I know of, and I’ve decided that, instead of the Nevernever (which name doesn’t quite fit the feel of the time period), we’ll have the Mittelmarch, the lands on the borders of Heaven and Hell. Still works the same, but different name for a different time and place.

4. Filling in the Blanks

We did a lot of brainstorming at the city creation session, and I took notes and filled out the city sheets, but there were still some holes, or pieces that didn’t fit quite right with other pieces. As I’ve been typing up the setting bible, I’ve been doing a little bit of polishing, elaborating on some bits and making minor changes to others in order to make the whole thing work together.

I’ve also been looking at the areas we hadn’t touched upon, and thinking about how they can work into the game if I need them to. Really, the primary focus is going to be – really, must be – on the stuff the players came up with, but it’s always good as a GM to have a couple of surprising ideas in your back pocket in case you need them. But I’m keeping my mouth shut about what they are.

And there you have it.

So, here’s the setting bible.

I’m working on incorporating the setting bible into a wiki on Obsidian Portal, so I’ll post a link to that in the sidebar when it’s ready.

This Friday is our second session, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Birthing Pains: High Concepts, Templates, and Troubles

So, I’ve talked about picking the power level for a DFRPG campaign, about choosing the setting, and starting to flesh it out. At this point, if you’re following the recommended sequence in the book, it’s time to start creating characters.

Now, in the previous step, I mentioned that you create faces for the various locations and themes you’ve built for your city, but I sort of glossed over that step, saying I’d deal with it in detail when we got to creating characters. The reason I did it that way is that there’s a fundamental idea that you need to understand to make good characters using this system, whether you’re building PCs or NPCs: the High Concept.

Most RPGs have something analagous to the High Concept, whether its the Race/Class combination, or the Profession, or the Archetype, or Template, or whatever they call it. DFRPG lets you make up your own, but that is, in some ways, tougher than choosing off a list. And the fact that it becomes the first and most central Aspect of your character means that it’s an important choice that you need to think about.

The system also uses templates to define characters, showing what powers you need to buy to play a Changeling or Wizard, for example, and picking one is usually the first step in building a PC. I personally have found that it’s most helpful to think about the two things at the same time: while you’re picking through the templates, think about what the High Concept for your character will be, and let the cool ideas you come up with for your High Concept influence the choice of template.

That bit of preamble is mainly to explain why I’m breaking this post up into the categories I am. I’m going to deal with High Concepts first, mainly because they are important both for PC and NPC creation, then I’m going to move on to Templates, and close with a discussion about Troubles. I’ll follow this up with a post on the rest of the character creation process.

Sound good? Good. Here we go.

High Concept

There’s a nice discussion in Your Story about picking a High Concept, with lots of examples to illustrate the ideas. The important points to make sure you hit are that the High Concept should distil the basics of your character into a short phrase, and that it should describe what you want your character’s role and flavour to be in the game. The first part can be simple; the second tends to be somewhat more difficult.

Let’s look at some examples. Harry’s High Concept is Wizard Private Eye. Now, that three-word phrase is loaded with information about who Harry is, what he’s like, and what he’s good at. See, he’s not a Private Eye Wizard, for one thing. Wizard comes first for Harry – that’s how he defines himself. It’s the most important thing for him. But the Private Eye bit is also important: it tells us that Harry pokes into things, that he has investigative skills, and that he helps people. If you want to stretch things a little farther, based on what you know about the White Council, it also implies that he’s not fully on board with their secrecy and their non-involvement, that he’s something of an outsider among them, associating more with the mundane world than many of them.

Now, I’m going to use an example from Fearful Symmetries. Emric Sordason has the High Concept of Rebellious Son of Surtr. From that we have the information that he is half-fire giant and that he and his dad don’t get along. If we extrapolate a little, based on how the fire giants appear in Norse legend, we see that he is probably much more pro-mortal than Surtr is, and not all that keen on Ragnarok.

What you want, in short, is something that’s both definitive and evocative.

Definitive is easy. Simple High Concepts like Cop, Wizard, Changeling, Hit Man, whatever. They give you the information that you want, but they don’t give you any of the feeling. That’s where evocative comes in. When I create characters in this system, I use a simple test to see if my High Concept is both evocative and definitive. I imagine one character in the setting telling another character about my character: “Him? Yeah, he’s…” and I insert my High Concept in to finish the sentence.

“Him? Yeah, he’s the rebellious son of Surtr.”

“Him? Yeah, he’s an outcast trickster spirit.”

“Him? Yeah, he’s a Wizard private eye.”

If I can imagine the other character reacting the right way, then the High Concept works. If I can’t (“He’s a cop? So what?”), then I need to rethink it. the reaction I’m looking for will vary from character to character, but we all have an idea of how we want our characters to be seen by the others in the setting. That’s the reaction that should be inherent in your High Concept.

It’s important that you get the High Concept right, both for aesthetic and mechanical reasons. Aesthetically, you want the High Concept to capture the cool of your character – when you trot it out in play, you want to feel proud of it, not apologetic. It should make you glad to be playing this character, not just sit there as a compromise that you use as a tool.

Mechanically, this is your primary go-to Aspect. This is the one that guarantees you have an Aspect to call on when you’re doing the things you most want your character to do, and the one that guarantees you’re getting the compels for the behaviours you want to be central to your character. For example, the Rebellious Son of Surtr has all the half-giant, mighty magical warrior stuff inherent in the Norse fire-giant mythology to draw on, and also a nice source of Fate points whenever he defies his role as  the mortal-hating, Ragnarok-bringing monster his father wants him to be.

In short, I recommend you spend a little time working the High Concept to get it just right. To paraphrase Samuel Clemens, the difference between the right High Concept and the almost right High Concept is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.

High Concepts for NPCs

The above is mainly aimed at creating PCs, but a lot of it is relevant to creating the NPCs – the faces in your game – as well. You need High Concepts that are both definitive and evocative. Instead of White Court Aristocrat, you want something like White Court Eminence Gris. Instead of Jewish Kabbalist, you want Heir to the Wisdom of Rabbi Loew. Instead of Pious Man of God, you want Saint Hiding in Plain Sight.

Because you’re probably not going to flesh all of your NPCs out in detail, it becomes even more vital that they have a solid, interesting High Concept. Charity Carpenter, for example, is not just Michael’s Wife. Her High Concept is Tower of Faith. Corpsetaker isn’t just a Necromancer, she’s a Body-Jumping Necromancer. With these High Concepts, you don’t need to put a whole lot of extra work into making the character unique and special – you can, but you don’t need to. You can focus on filling out the ones that get the most use in your setting.

So don’t stint on the High Concepts for NPCs, either.


This is the other big choice at the start of character creation – while the High Concept tells you who your character is, the Template outlines what your character can do. One important thing to keep in mind as you look at the Templates is that they are not exhaustive; they’re mainly a starting point, helping you to flesh out some of the character types we see in the novels.

You don’t need to use a Template to create your character, but the game does a lot of the up-front work for you if you want to play something like a Wizard, Werewolf, or Changeling. It shows you the mix of powers that will make a character feel like the character type in the books. That said, it’s easy enough to mix and match your own version of the various character types.

It’s also easy to tweak the Templates to fit what you imagine your character should be, and the book encourages this. There’s a nice little section on how to build new Templates, as well as a specific discussion on how to use the Changeling Template to reflect other half-human, half-supernatural creatures.

Whether you’re using a Template, tweaking a Template, or building your own character concept, this is a good time to start looking at the Supernatural Powers you want to buy. You’ve got your Starting Refresh set by the Power Level, so you know your budget. Start looking through the Supernatural Powers chapter, either looking at what your Template recomends for you or making a shopping list.

I pretty much guarantee you won’t be able to afford everything you want, but the picking and choosing is part of the fun of creating a character. And if you got everything you wanted up front, character advancement wouldn’t mean all that much, would it?

In my experience, there are two main approaches to this part of character creation. If you have a good, solid character concept, you look for the Template or powers that will most reflect the concept. If you don’t have that solid a concept, you look for stuff you like, and then ask yourself what kind of person would have these abilities. Either way works fine – two different roads to the same destination, where you character has powers that reinforce and are supported by the concept and behaviour.

You may find yourself wanting to do some fine-tuning of your High Concept at this stage, as well, as different powers and abilities may suggest different things for your character. Go with it, is my advice; just remember to keep it both descriptive and evocative.


Troubles are the third of the three main pillars of your character. In some ways, it can seem like the second-string Aspect compared to your High Concept, but really it’s the engine that powers your character, both mechanically and dramatically.

See, all good characters, whether in games or in fiction, have some sort of problem that they have to deal with. It helps to lend depth to the character, to show that they aren’t one-dimensional cut-outs. Hercules has a terrible temper. King Arthur has that whole love-triangle thing going on. Sherlock Holmes has problems with both boredom and addiction. Spenser has a code of conduct that makes his life difficult. Harry’s got the dark past that keeps calling to him.

Picking a Trouble for your character is a big decision, because you’re telling the GM, “This is how I want you to mess with my character.” It’s got to be something that is going to complicate your character’s life, but it also has to be something that you, as a player, find fun to explore. If it doesn’t do both things, you’ve got the wrong Trouble.

So, what makes a good trouble? Well, like the High Concept, it’s got to be both descriptive and evocative. The GM has to be able to see how it fits into the world and how to use it (that’s the descriptive part), and it has to illuminate aspects of your character and his/her story that you want to come across (the evocative part). It’s got to be something that will persist in the game world, as well – this is an issue that’s central to the character. If it can be easily resolved, then it’s no good beyond that time. If your Trouble is something simple like I Hate My Roommate, and the first thing you do in the game is move out (or kick your roommate out), then you’ve missed the point.

You want the Trouble to stick around and mess with you all through play, because every time it does, you get a Fate Point. Whenever your Nemesis shows up to make your life difficult, you get a Fate Point. Whenever you lose your Hair-Trigger Temper and scare off a contact, you get a Fate Point. Whenever you decide to do a job the hard way so as not to violate your Code Against Killing, you get a Fate Point. Yeah, it’s going to cause you problems, but you get a reward. And you decided what sort of problems you wanted when you took the Trouble, right?

Of course, as with all Aspects, you want to be able to do more than just get compelled by your Trouble, so you’ve got to pay attention to the wording at least as carefully as you did with the High Concept. Invoke your Code Against Killing to gain the trust of the cops, or your Hair-Trigger Temper to go berserk in combat.

It’s easy to think of the Trouble as a disadvantage, but it’s really not – no Aspects are, even ones that sound negative. All Aspects are tools for you to use to bring your character to life, and to make the stories you’re playing be the ones you want to tell. The way you reveal character is through choices made under pressure, right? Your Trouble is one of the main sources of pressure for your character. How he/she deals with it will go a long way to defining who he/she is.

As with the High Concept, take the time to make your Trouble right. Make sure the wording works for you, and strengthens your concept.

These three pieces give you the skeleton of your character. By this time, the concept should be pretty clear in your mind. Next time, I’m going to talk about the rest of the character creation process, and how it helps fill out the structure you’ve built with these three decisions.

Fearful Symmetries: The Beginnings

It’s been pretty quiet around here for the past week or so. There’s a reason for that.

You may remember I posted some time ago about the new campaign I was starting called Scio Occultus Res. It was meant to be a two-person game using the Mage: The Awakening rules, and I wanted to get things rolling before Christmas. That didn’t happen. What with things being busy, the preparations dragged on and on, and the shiny wore off the idea for the players. So, last week, I kind of forced the issue, and said, “If you get me your player backgrounds by Friday, I will have a game ready for you to play on Saturday.”

They considered, and said that they weren’t all that interested anymore, but still wanted to game this weekend.

Now, I was happy to just have the game out of limbo, even if it was just for it to be cast into the outer darkness. I sent them a list of the game systems that I could have ready for Saturday, and asked them to pick one ASAP, to give me some prep time. They picked The Dresden Files RPG*. And that meant I got to put some of the things I’d been talking about here into practice.

We talked about power level, and the kinds of characters they wanted to play and the stories they wanted to tell, and fixed on Submerged. As things went on, though, I saw they were feeling more and more constrained by that power level – the ideas that had come up in discussing the game meant dealing with mythic, epic kinds of stories and characters, so I decided to give them two extra Refresh, for a starting total of 12*.

And then we talked setting. I had, many years ago, proposed a sort of loose campaign outline for a modern supernatural adventure game that I had called Fearful Symmetries, that focused on a small band of powerful heroes holding the forces of darkness at bay. They liked that idea, but thought it would be more fun in a historical context. The proposed time periods were eventually whittled down to the Thirty Years’ War. We talked about whether to make the setting a single city or a larger area: the Holy Roman Empire, or even all of Europe. We settled, thanks to a little nudging on my part, on Prague in 1620.

Why Prague? Three real reasons:

  1. This was where the spark that started the Thirty Years’ War was struck, and featured prominently in the war, especially in the early years.
  2. Prague is chock full of all sorts of creepy, mysterious, mythical, and just plain weird stuff.
  3. I had already done a fair bit of research on the city when I wrote this several years ago.

Why 1620? Because it’s early in the war, and late in the year the Battle of White Mountain will see the breaking of the Bohemian army and the occupation of the city by the Catholic coalition, which offers some very gameable moments. You’ll see when I get around to posting the setting document.

So, Friday night, we got together early, had some pizza, and ran through the city creation process for Prague. And it was fantastic.

I want to stress at this point that we did minimal research. I read a little in Wikipedia about the Thirty Years’ War, and had done the research on Prague years ago (and on a period ten years earlier than we were setting the game), but really we just wanted to use as much of the actual background as was fun – just the bits that were interesting, flavourful, and gameable. Same thing with the actual geography of the city.

Here’s a quote from the Character Creation chapter of Your Story:

As you create the characters and the world they inhabit, you have begun play.

They’re right. We brainstormed themes and threats, came up with thirteen different locations and their themes and threats, faces for everything, Aspects ditto, and a good, solid idea of the movers and shakers and the status quo. And the whole time, we were having a blast suggesting things, and elaborating on each other’s contributions, and riffing on ideas that seemed to spring from everyone at once. We were constantly amazed at how cool the city was becoming, and got more and more excited as things went on.

And then we built the characters. I built one along with the players, both because there were just two of them, and because I find it handy to have an NPC in the game that the characters have a good connection with. It gives them a starting point when they go out look for contacts and information. I created a 17th-century version of Amadan, because I think he’s an interesting archetype and a useful role to have available in the game. The other characters are:

  • Isabella Valdstejn, a Seasoned Wizard of the White Council, returning to Prague to attend the funeral of her father, who had sent her away forty years ago when he remarried.
  • Emric Sordason, the Rebellious Son of Surtr, bearing his fire giant father’s sword, which is fated to bring about Ragnarok.

By then, it was late and we called it a night.

I spent Saturday afternoon preparing a simple scenario for that night. Wanting to get away from the more rigid adventure structure encouraged by D&D, I took some solid advice from the indie gaming world. I had first read it in Dogs in the Vineyard*, and it was reiterated in the Building Scenarios chapter of Your Story: build a situation that forces conflict, and let the players figure out how to handle it. Don’t have a preconceived notion of how things are going to be resolved – don’t chart the whole course of the story.

Now, the chapter also strongly recommends tying in the Aspects of the characters but, being an idiot, I hadn’t made a list of them the night before. That meant I needed to build something that they could encounter pretty much at my whim, and I’d need to trust my players to follow up the dangling thread. They’re helpful players, and excited about the game, so I didn’t think it would be much of a problem. That evening, we spent the first little while putting the finishing touches on the characters, and discussing how some of the mechanics work, and then we got down to play.

I let the players set the first couple of scenes, with them meeting in Prague after not having seen each other for some time, having dinner in Isabella’s rooms, and talking. The next day, they went out to her family estate for her father’s funeral, and we did a little more character-building roleplaying along the way. On the way back, I decided to stage a little scene to drive home the situation in Prague. Their character was stopped and searched by a patrol from the city, who questioned them closely concerning their accents and business in city. One of the threats we came up with in the city-building session, you see, was The Emperor’s Spies are Everywhere. Isabella’s story checked out, as did Emric’s offer to buy the squad a drink, so they went on their way without further incident, but the scene helped to establish the mood.

It did more than that, though. I decided to make the squad a group of Swiss mercenaries, and played up their professionalism and attention to both courtesy and detail, thinking that it would lay a good groundwork for contrast when I brought a more brutish group of mercenaries on stage. The captain turned out to be so much fun to play, being polite and clever and completely civilized and businesslike, and he made such a good impression on the players, that I’ve made a note to flesh him out and use him further in the game.

That evening, as Emric was returning to his rooms, he spotted a disturbance in one of the twisting alleys where Old Town and New Town meet. Investigating, he found two rough men holding down a third and trying to pour something from a bottle into the mouth of their victim. He chased them off, and received a token from the man he had saved, saying that Zuckerbastl’s boys owed him a favour. Zuckerbastl is the local King of Thieves, so his favour can come in handy.

The next day, Emric and Isabella began investigating, and found that, even in the frightened city, the disappearances from Old Town were starting to make people talk, and say that Zuckerbastl was losing his grip on things. Our valiant heroes decided to go trolling through Old Town at night, Emric acting slightly drunk, and Isabella concealed behind a veil. They didn’t see anything untoward until Emric was propositioned by a prostitute. One of the bits of information they had picked up was that the disappearances had started with a number of prostitutes, so he paid his money and went up to her room, with Isabella unseen along for the ride.

In the room, Emric questioned the girl – Danika – and shared some wine with her. When he started asking about the disappearances and Zuckerbastl, she said she’d give him information in return for a kiss. He agreed, and this proved to be a mistake.

I told him he now had the Aspect Befuddled, and wanted to do whatever Danika told him to. More than anything, though, he wanted to kiss her again. Before he could, though, Isabella revealed herself to pull Danika off of him, but instead got flung across the room for her pains. Catching her breath, she used a Spirit Evocation to clear Emric’s mind, and Emric picked up the washstand and smashed Danika into a wall, knocking her out. He checked to see if she was still alive, and found her eyes to be completely black.

At this point, the bouncer from downstairs came in, and was not inclined to listen to reason. Isabella used her magic to knock the bed into his legs, dumping him on the ground, and Emric disarmed him and threatened him into submission. They tied him up, and went back to investigating Danika, who was healing very quickly and starting to stir. The signs all pointed to the fact that she was Red Court Infected. She confirmed this, and claimed that Zuckerbastl had a monster in his court that he used to control the girls.

The pair were left with a difficult choice, now: do they kill Danika, or do they let her go free? They know there is no cure for Red Court Vampirism, even at this stage, and the only way she can keep from becoming a monster is to discipline herself forever. They were quite torn, especially Emric, who saw many similarities between their situations. In the end, they decided to take her to St. Vitus Rotunda, one of the oldest churches in Prague, where they knew the clergy had some idea of the supernatural. The priest there told them that they knew how to handle this, and had a convent in Romania set up for cloistering the infected and helping them fight their disease.

Again, it had got late, so we left the game there, with Isabella and Emric planning to pay a visit to Zuckerbastl and find out what’s up.

All in all, I was very pleased with the way the game went, and impressed as hell that the game system (and, of course, my enthusiastic players) could get the whole setting built and running in less than a week. The setting we’ve come up with is rich and detailed, with many, many hooks for stories and adventures. Once I get it typed up, I’ll post the setting document somewhere on the site, along with the characters when my players send me copies.

Kudos to Evil Hat for making the game so fast and fun to set up and run.

And just one further note:

We’re playing DFRPG, and you can, too!


*Which I had just preordered, so I had the latest, greatest pre-printing pdfs to work from. Back

*Let’s call that level Sunk to the Knees in the Muddy Bottom. Back

*Always a killer source for good advice in running a game. Any game. Back

When Magic Comes to Town: City Creation in DFRPG, Part Two

Last time, I talked about deciding on your city and coming up with themes and threats for it. Now, before we get on to the next step, there’s a bit of an intermediary step that gets slotted in. You don’t have to do it right at this point, but it can be helpful for moving forward.

Step 1.5: High-Level View

Between deciding what the themes and threats of your setting are and starting to work at the ground-level with locations and faces, the book suggests filling in a little of the high-level view. This is where you can begin to make sure that you’ve got a place for the elements of the Dresdenverse that your characters are most interested in interacting with.

It’s pretty simple, really. First, you discuss what supernatural power groups have an interest in the city – the city itself mostly defines what the interested mundane groups are. If you’ve got a character with a tie to one or another of the power groups, now’s the time to give it a place in city politics. Once you know who’s interested in the city, you get to determine what their interest is. This part will probably draw very heavily on your themes and threats. When you’ve got a good picture of how things are set up in the city, come up with a brief (one or two sentences) statement to describe the supernatural status quo, and another one to describe the mundane status quo.

The next bit is pretty cool. Take the different power groups – both supernatural and mundane – that you’re going to have involved in your story, and map them on a simple plane. The x-axis is a continuum between “Who wants to maintain the status quo” and “Who wants to rock the boat.” The y-axis is a similar continuum between “Who’s in the know” and “Who’s in the dark.” So, for example, most of the mortals in a given city are going to be in the upper-left quadrant (maintain status quo and in the dark), while the Black Council would definitely be in the lower right quadrant (rock the boat and in the know).

Now you’ve got a representative map of the movers and shakers in your city, as well as a snap-shot of the mundane and supernatural situations. You’ve got a solid foundation for the next step.

Step 2: Fill in locations and faces.

Now we get to the ground-level development of your setting. The rules suggest starting with the locations, and brainstorming until you have a couple of locations per player, rather than just enumerating every neighbourhood in your city. Let’s face it, after all: not every place in a given city is going to be good fodder for a game. So, you want to make sure that you get places that are evocative, have their own story hooks, have some tie to the themes or threats of the setting, and tie to one or another of the movers and shakers you developed above. Each location doesn’t have to have all of the above, but should have at least one.

Really, in my opinion, what you want in a location is for it to serve double-duty. It should work as an interesting backdrop for adventures and it should spark adventure ideas itself. So, here in Winnipeg, we have the Manitoba Legislature, which is a cool building in its own right, and the building and grounds make for an interesting setting for at least part of an adventure. But factor in the elements of sacred geometry and the pagan symbolism built into the structure, and it starts suggesting cults to Hermaphrodite, or cabals of alchemists, or a masonic conspiracy, or any of a number of different story hooks. That makes for a good location.

Again, I’m going to strenuously advocate a collective approach, here. As GM, don’t come up with all the answers yourself. Get your players involved, both in the brainstorming and the fleshing out that follows. You’ll wind up with a better mix of places and ideas than if you had done it on your own. Just for an example, in creating Magical Winnipeg, it was my players who came up with the ideas for the Gimli einharjar, the White Court Pentecostal Churches, the Mad Cowz were-hyenas, and the Consecration of the Two Waters. I wouldn’t have thought of these things on my own, and they add a nice mix of elements to the setting that I used in the playtest.

Keep in mind that locations can be different things. A location might be a neighbourhood, or it might be a building, or a business, or a park, or any other place where the characters will go. It doesn’t even need to be contiguous: the Pentecostal Churches in Winnipeg are all essentially one place, with the same overlying elements, for all that they’re separated geographically. Gimli is some 50 miles or so from the city, but the presence of Odin’s back-up Valhalla there is enough to have an impact on the game. If you’re running a game with a broader base – say, a secret government project that travels worldwide fighting monsters – then your locations can even  be a little abstract, cleaving closer to the power groups than to the geographic areas. So, instead of having the North End of the city, with its gangs and dangers, you might have the Accounting Department, with their ruthless and unexpected audits and reviews.

I’m going to suggest a little something here that I think works well for this stage. Get visual references. Take some pictures, or search online for some, that capture the essence of what you want each location to be. These can be very helpful for fleshing out the locations, as well as evocative for use in play. This is especially useful if you’re playing in a city (or time period) that you’re unfamiliar with. If you’re playing in a Nevernever setting, well, finding references means looking at fantasy art rather than city photographs, but it’s still doable. It may be even more helpful.

Once you’ve got your locations picked, it’s time to flesh them out. One of the first things you’re going to have to do is tie at least some of them (but probably not all of them) into the supernatural world you’re building. You don’t want to go overboard on this, in my opinion, unless you’re setting the game in the Nevernever, or the eternal city of Shangri-La, or Agartha, or inside the Hollow Earth or something. You need to keep the supernatural aspects ignorable by the general populace – otherwise, you wind up with the question of how do mundane folks survive in this dangerous world?

That said, you need some supernatural connections. They’re probably secret, and may not be too heavy, but the connections should be there. So, a nightclub might be a meeting ground for vampires, or a park might contain a wyldfae court, or a certain bookstore and coffee shop might be a regular meeting place for the clued-in. Not everything needs to be magic,  but some things have to be. Otherwise, you’re not playing a modern fantasy game, are you?

Every group is going to have their own sweet spot for this, so talk with the players and find out what your group’s is.

You also need to pick a theme or a threat for each location. Just one or the other. The standards for themes and threats are the same from the previous step, but you only want one for each location, and it should be specific for that location. Now, aesthetically and structurally, it makes sense to tie these in to the overall themes and threats for the city, but you’ve got to make each one slightly different, too. So, if you’ve got a city theme of “Cultural melting pot of the Canadian Prairies,” and you want to riff on that, then you might give the threat of “Dangerous new African gangs,” to the North End location, and the theme “Feeding on the corpse of history,” to the Forks Market (which is a mall built on the site of an archaeological dig). Both deal with the waves of immigration hinted at in the city theme, but take it in different directions.

One really good piece of advice in the book is that, now that you have these locations fleshed out, it becomes tempting to force the players to them, but you shouldn’t do it. Don’t turn the adventures into a sight-seeing trip through your magical city. Stick to a couple of solid locations in each adventure, and make sure there are some that recur so that the characters become familiar with them. Watch what people pay attention to, and give them more of that. You may wind up never using some of the locations your group creates, and that’s okay. It still helped to flesh out the setting and people’s understanding of it. You may wind up needing to create new locations for adventures, and that’s okay, too. You can use the locations you built previously as a solid foundation to build on. Let the story go where the story needs to go, not just where you’ve already got the locations established.

Now, faces. Faces are what the book calls NPCs who represent or embody a given location, theme, or threat. You’ve already got a whole list of locations, themes, and threats; now you just rough out an NPC to go with each of them. Maybe more than one, if the theme is broad or conflicted enough – for example, you might want a cop and a criminal face for a theme like “The police are fighting a holding action against the influx of organized crime.”

I’m going to talk in more detail about creating the NPCs in the next installment, when we talk about creating characters. In fact, the book suggests that you may want to mix creating the faces of the setting with creating the PCs, and I think that’s a pretty good idea. Until then, though really what you want for each face is a high concept, a motivation, and relationships.

High concept is something that, again, I’m going to talk about in more detail next installment. But for now, the simple explanation is that it’s a single-sentence explanation of what the character is. So, for the cop/criminal thing I talked about a couple of paragraphs back, you might choose “Incorruptible Cop” for one and “Ambitious Drug Lord” for the other.

As for motivation, some of this is going to be linked to the location, theme, or threat that your face is representing. Some will be simple: money, power, love, duty, revenge, and so on. Some will be more complex: wanting to prove that you’re worthy of respect, seeking a truth that you know is hidden away, saving someone from themselves, etc.

Relationships are pretty simple. Look at the other characters (PC and NPC) in the game, and see if they have anything linking them. Or if they could have anything linking them. Or maybe you need to create a new character to represent that relationship – the missing son that the PI hopes to find one day, or the rival at the newspaper that drives the reporter to great heights. Whatever. Figure out if there are any links (here’s a hint: faces that share a theme or threat or location probably also have a relationship), and write them down.

I’ve pretty much glossed over the faces bit, I admit. But next time, I’ll circle back with some more information, when we tackle the third step: creating the player characters.

I Can’t Believe I Missed This!

Yesterday, the good folks at Evil Hat released a huge chunk of The Dresden Files RPG: Your Story for free at DriveThruRPG.com. It’s the chapter on Dresdenified Baltimore, called Nevermore. Not only does it provide a wonderful example of the results of in-depth city building, it gives you a glimpse at some of the layout and art from the game. If you’re at all interested in a glimpse of this game before it hits the street, go now and download your copy.

Did I mention it was free?

When Magic Comes to Town: City Creation in DFRPG, Part One

First off, it was very, very difficult for me, as a child of the 80s, to avoid making a Starship reference when it comes to building cities.

Anyway, I’ve talked about setting the power level for a DFRPG campaign. The next big step in getting a campaign going is city creation.

As with most things involved in setting up a DFRPG campaign, the recommendation in the book is that you do this step as a group, and I cannot endorse this enough. Now, I’ve had mixed luck with co-operative setting building, but the troubles I’ve run into tend to be caused by a lack of shared understanding of some of the basic assumptions of the world. Here, in the Dresdenverse, a number of those basic assumptions are clearly spelled out in the source material. This is not to say you can’t change them; only that it gives you a larger plot of common ground when you start getting people brainstorming about the setting.

It’s a little misleading to think of city creation as just building the setting. The way things are set up in the book, this process creates not just the setting, but a number of the overarching themes of the game, and shapes the types of stories that you’re going to be playing through and the kinds of characters you’re going to build. In fact, step three of their instructions is to create characters, which you do before putting the final touches on the city. This guarantees that the characters fit into the city, and that the city contains things that the characters care about.

Now, I outlined the steps to city creation at a pretty low-level back here. This time, I’m going to look at things at a higher level, but with more discussion of the four steps. Before that, though, I want to point out that the books have a fully-Dresdenified version of Baltimore, a long chapter on real-world and fictional weirdness in Chicago, some suggestions about what they call The Vancouver Method for just making stuff up, and suggestions for how to build your city on the fly. So, there are a ton of options if building cities in the way they outline is not to your taste.

The four high-level steps are:

  1. Choose a city, themes, and threats.
  2. Fill in locations and faces.
  3. Make the player characters.
  4. Turn themes and threats into Aspects.

I’m only going to do the first step this time, because it alone is a pretty big topic. I’ll continue with the rest of the steps in future posts.

Step 1: Choose a city, themes, and threats.

This step could easily be the easiest one of the bunch. Or, it could be the hardest. It’s simple to say, “Let’s Dresdenify my home town!” Even if you live somewhere kind of boring, like I do, you’d be amazed at what a gameable setting you can throw together with a little brainstorming and discussion. It can be harder to pick a city that no one is really familiar with – that may entail a lot of research, though the book is careful to point out that you should stop doing research when it stops being fun. Even if that point is before you start.

The really difficult part comes in when you realize that you’re spoiled for choice. See, they make a point in the book of saying that, while the default assumption is that you’re going to play in a city, that’s not the only setting that can be built this way. Some of the ideas I’ve been toying with in my head to suggest when my group gets together to build our campaign:

  • Winnipeg. Yeah, we’ve already done it, but we could do it again – better. With more time and a better understanding of the game, I think the results would be even cooler than they already are. We could keep the best stuff, and add to it.
  • A fiefdom in the Nevernever. They mention this idea in the book, and it would be cool to set up a “free faerie city” idea, where the fantasy quotient is higher than in a mundane city – even a Dresdenified one. Anyone remember the Grimjack comics?
  • A few small towns in a larger geographic area. Driving down through the midwest of the US every summer, I’m struck by how the higher population density throws so many little towns into such a small area, and how many of them have colleges. The area around where I grew up here in Manitoba are similar, but with more distance between the places. You could treat the whole area as one city, with the various towns and rural areas being the neighbourhoods. It would allow you to bring a lot more of the feral supernatural stuff.
  • A warden squad. Make the characters responsible for much larger geographic area, like an entire state or province. Again, you’d need to change the resolution level: neighbourhoods become cities and counties, for example. Now, this idea seems to restrict characters to just Wizards, but it doesn’t have to. I figure that most Wizards, like Harry, have some contacts with other character types, which would let you mix in pretty much any character the players want.
  • Mystical archaeologists. Now, the whole world becomes the setting, with the neighbourhoods being different ancient civilizations: Roman, Aztec, Celtic, Greek, Fey, whatever. Or maybe the neighbourhoods become time periods. You cold, of course, just set the neighbourhoods as different geographic regions or archaeological digs, but that’s not nearly as interesting, I think.
  • A traveling company. Here, I’m inspired by something like Carnivale, or the latest season of Heroes. The idea of a traveling carnival with a supernatural element can also have echoes of Something Wicked This Way Comes. But it doesn’t have to be a carnival or circus; the road company of a musical or even a Copperfield-style magic show could work very well. Also, I’m currently reading Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross, and can see the potential of setting it aboard a ship on an extended cruise. Again, the definition of the neighbourhoods grows and changes to fit the framework.

Now, I think it’s pretty obvious from the preceding ideas how the setting you choose will influence the entire campaign, from character choice to the kinds of stories you tell. Some of them imply very specific types of relationships between the characters – they’re all wardens, or they’re all crew members on a cruise ship, or whatever.

Once you’ve got the basic setting picked, the book recommends you start research. Find out more about the place you’ve chosen, so that you’ve got some good ideas to bring to the table for the next part of the process. Read up on the history, the interesting places, visit some tourist sites (even if only online), or check out other source material. Talk to each other about what you’re finding out, and make a list of cool ideas that come to you.

When you’ve got some basic knowledge, you come up with the themes and threats. The book defines themes as problems that have been around for a long time, while threats are problems that are new. For example, in Magical Winnipeg, one theme is the fact that the city is a melting pot of so very many different ethnicities, all dealing with the elements and environment of the Canadian prairie. A threat is the upsurge in violent street crime driven by the dangerous were-hyenas of the Mad Cowz.

In my mind, what you’re looking for in a theme is dynamic tension. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s take a look at someplace like Washington, DC. What I know about the city is purely from reading and watching the news and TV shows, so I freely admit that I’m an outsider and may be behind on the development. Doesn’t matter. It’s just an example.

Washington has a special place in the psyche of the US, as the seat of government and site of numerous important monuments, museums, archives, etc. But it also has a large crime problem and crushing urban poverty. It has some of the richest, most powerful people in America living right alongside some of the poorest, most disenfranchised people. This contrast is something that can work very well as a theme, because it sets up tension between the haves and the have-nots in your story that spawns all sorts of adventure ideas, complications, and opportunities for heroism.

Themes are pervasive. They don’t go away, and are generally beyond the ability of the players to resolve, unless that becomes a primary focus of your campaign or you’re working at a much higher level of power than standard. But in that case, your themes should ratchet up, too, becoming great epic issues: the pull between mortality and immortality, for example. Themes are questions and issues that your characters struggle with, that force them to make choices and take action and thereby define themselves.

Threats, on the other hand, are issues that your characters can come to grips with and overcome. Maybe not all at once, but over the course of a few adventures. Taking on a were-hyena street gang, for example – it may take several adventures to roll up the gang’s hierarchy, but it can be done. Threats are where the conflict comes into the game; they are the primary sources of adventure fodder, though they are heavily informed by the themes.

Now, this is where you need to start thinking about the supernatural elements you’re going to add to the game. Some of the choices you make here will be constrained by the choices you made in setting the power level for the campaign: if you’re running a Feet in the Water game, you probably don’t want a whole bunch of the supernatural right out in the open, unless the campaign is going to focus on the issue of how relatively mundane folks deal with the overwhelming nature of the paranormal. On the other hand, if you’re playing a Submerged game, you want a lot of the magical stuff to be up front, or else your characters are going to walk all over the rest of the people in the world.

But that said, really the amount of supernatural stuff you want to add is going to be a matter of aesthetics. What are you trying to accomplish? What do you want the feel of the game to be? Those things will guide the choices. What I find useful is looking for just the coolest bits of weirdness to layer on, and letting the rest grow organically from there. For example, Winnipeg (like most cities) has a real wealth of ghost stories – the old Masonic Temple, the Hotel Fort Garry, and the Vaughn Street Jail are all said to be haunted, not mention dozens of other less interesting buildings around town. Rather than write up each individual haunting, I tied them together with the Council of Ghosts, based in the Vaughan Street Jail, that deals with policing the restless spirits of the city. That covers a big chunk of the supernatural in a general and interesting way, but leaves me free to create the kinds of ghosts and ghost stories that the game needs.

Where I’m going with this is here: start layering in the supernatural right from the start, but remember that for modern fantasy to work well, you need a solid mundane world to support it. Don’t turn every event in the history of your city or every place of interest into something linked to the supernatural. Use it as seasoning, and let the game shape how it grows and influences the rest of the world.

But more on that next time, when I talk about locations and faces.

Wading In: Power Levels for DFRPG Campaigns

I’m still waiting for June to start actually building a DFRPG campaign, but I’m starting to do some thinking about what sorts of decisions will need to be made. I want a lot of these decisions to be made jointly between me and the players, through discussion and consensus, which means I need to understand the ramifications of the different options available.

And that means I’m doing some thinking about things.

One of the first decisions that needs to be made in running a DFRPG campaign is the power level of the campaign. There are four different levels, each of which dictates the Refresh level, number of skill points available, and the highest level of skill you can take. There’s a good explanation of the different levels in the book, talking about what sorts of characters are available at that level, and what sort of abilities they’ll have.

This is a pretty far-reaching decision, with a sort of domino effect that cascades through the entire game. The power level will affect the types of characters created, which will influence the types of foes they face, which will shape the stories you tell and the themes you choose and even the nature of the setting.

So, what are we talking about, here? Here are my thoughts. Note that the conclusions I come up with are not the only ones supported by the game, but they show some of the ramifications of the power level decision.

Feet in the Water

6 refresh, 20 skill points, skill cap at Great.

At this level, you’re looking pretty much at playing mortals with (maybe) a supernatural trick or two. This means templates like Focused Practitioner, Red Court Infected, and True Believer. You can get a little more oomph by taking the basics of things like Champion of God or Changeling, but you’re not going to have much in the way of refresh to customize your character or buy extra stunts. At most, you’re going to have two skills at Great, which would leave you with only four other skills above Mediocre.

This is the game of the clued-in mortal, the small fish in the pond, and folks who are just starting out in their career of becoming big, bad monsters. Sample characters from the books are people like the Special Investigations Unit, the Carpenter family (excluding Molly and Michael, but including Charity), the Ordo Lebes, the Changeling kids from Summer Knight, and most of the members of ParaNet. The foes they’d be able to face on an equal footing (-6 refresh or thereabouts) are either mortal or very low-powered supernatural; things like the Chlorofiend, the chimp or baboon sized shen demons, some common fey like pixies and elves, spectres, and minor spirits.

This sort of power level really lends itself to horror stories, as opposed to action stories. In most cases, your characters are going to be significantly overmatched by the opposition, and they’re going to need to outrun and outthink them. Horror stories also tend to happen on a very personal scale – it’s you and a couple of friends up against the monster that’s going to eat you. You’re not necessarily trying to save the world. You’re just trying to save yourself.

The idea of personal scale and the limited array of foes also suggests that a game at this level would fit nicely into a limited-geography setting – maybe a college campus, or a small town, or a single precinct in a city. Of course, as the early seasons of Supernatural show so very well, it also works fairly well as a road-trip game.

Of course, you don’t have to go the horror route. If you truncate the power scale of the bad guys, eliminating most of the serious occult threats, you could run a strong action game, where the little bit of an edge that the characters have over mundane characters is enough to turn them into the last, best hope for keeping the evil under wraps. It changes the feel more to that of a Submerged level game, as noted below, because the range of power is narrowed so significantly.

Up to Your Waist

7 refresh, 25 skill points, skill cap at Great.

This is where the supernatural templates begin to be more viable as characters. Yeah, that one refresh point does make that much of a difference – it opens up things like the Sorcerer template, as well as giving you the buffer you need to customize and tweak the lower-level templates into something with a little more style. The skill points don’t give you an extra Great (or even Good) skill, but it does round out your range of skills with at least four more skills at Average or above.

Characters like Murphy, Hendricks, or Father Forthill are good examples of the kinds of characters that start being playable at this level, and more powerful foes (ghouls and sorcerers, for example, maybe even an actual vampire) start being viable to send up against the characters.

I can see going one of two ways at this power level: either ramp up from the Feet in the Water level, creeping from horror into more heroic horror, or else setting it as a starting point for action stories, with the characters being young, inexperienced, and just starting out. Think later-season Supernatural (where Sam and Dean have mastered fighting all the easy monsters) versus early-season Buffy (where Willow is just starting to dabble in magic, and Buffy’s only died once).

Setting can go either way, depending on whether you want your characters to be the big fish or the small fish. Keep it at the same small scale as in the previous level, and you’ve got some serious dedicated guardians in control of their little patch of ground. Ramp it up to full city size, and you’ve got some up-and-comers ready to be pawns for the other power blocs squabbling over territory.

You can even do both: consider the Alphas, who pretty much own their little section of the city, but are still very much a local phenomenon, and at risk from the bigger power players in the rest of Chicago. In fact, that would make a pretty cool campaign, but you’d have to adjust the Alphas’ listed powers from their stat blocks to get them playable at 7 refresh.

Chest Deep

8 refresh, 30 skill points, skill cap at Superb.

Here’s where we start approaching the default power level of the novels. You can play a Wizard at this point, though not a terribly experienced one, and even a White Court Vampire. In fact, at this point, all the character types are available. If you play a less-costly character type, you’ve had the opportunity to upgrade and customize it a fair bit. You can start out with two skills at Superb, and have eight other skills at Average and above. You are starting at a level that the rest of the occult world has to start noticing.

This is where you’d start if you wanted to play the Alphas as statted, or a band of Apprentice Wizards like Molly Carpenter, or a group of experienced Minor Practitioners like Mortimer Lindquist. The FBI Hexenwolves start becoming viable opposition, along with things like the gorilla-sized shen demon, Bucky the Murder Doll, hunter goblins and the lesser gruffs, Black Court Renfields, werewolves, and the like.

The stories are moving strongly toward the idea of action, now, though not necessarily as pulpy as things get next level. Characters have the options and power to go toe-to-toe with a broad range of antagonists in whatever sense they choose, and can be extremely competent in a narrow range of abilities. They can be trapped in that middle-management hell of having to look after those weaker than themselves (many), and still obey those more powerful than themselves (still many). And they’re tough enough now that those above them are much more inclined to notice them and give them orders or demand favours.

Scale-wise for the setting, the world is really starting to open up. At this point, things are ripe for globe-trotting troubleshooters working for Monoc Security, or Strike Force Summer Lightning, keeping the Nevernever safe for their ladyships. If they keep to a smaller geographic area, they start to be real movers and shakers in their city, or the undisputed top of the food chain within their own small town/neighbourhood/precinct/college campus/shopping mall.


10 refresh, 35 skill points, skill cap at Superb.

The five extra skill points don’t add a whole lot, but the two extra refresh are huge. It doesn’t open up any new character types, but it gives you the flexibility to customize and combine different types. Here’s the quote from the book – I can’t say it any cooler than this:

[I]t becomes possible at this stage to be a Champion of God with a Sword of the Cross, or a Werewolf who can do earth evocations, or a Red Court Infected who becomes the Emissary of the Buddha as a way of taming his impulse control.

This is the default power level of the main characters at the start of Storm Front. With this, you could build Harry Dresden, or a very talented Karrin Murphy, or Michael Carpenter.

This is also the point at which all the antagonists really become viable as opposition, though there are still some that will crush characters of this level if you meet them head-on. But characters at this level have a broad range of different options to help them pick their battles and choose their weapons.

Action here can creep easily into the pulp ideal, and doing horror is really tough. Stories, which started to really expand scope at the last level, now deal with even larger issues than the personal stories of the earlier levels. Not to say that things don’t have a personal aspect – you need to make things personal enough for the characters to get involved, after all, and abstract concepts like saving the world just aren’t as immediate. I’m just saying that there will be world-saving going on.

If characters aren’t the biggest fish in their pond at this power level, then they are still pretty significant players, as opposed to pawns. If someone tries to push them around, even someone much more powerful, there will be repercussions. Political stories start being far more interesting at higher power levels, as the characters will be able to bring some leverage of their own to bear on the course of events set by the mighty.

Setting scale-wise, you pretty much have to open things up here to allow for enough opposition to generate interesting stories. If you’ve got four Wizards in a little farming town, for example, putting enough supernatural excitement in the town to keep the characters busy is really going to strain credulity. Expanding it to the five towns in the area and the wild spaces in between, though, and you’ve got yourself a ballgame. Or at least a roleplaying game.


So, there you have it. That’s the rundown on the four different power levels, and the way they can affect the game you build. It’s an important decision right at the start of the campaign, and I encourage groups to think about what the stories are going to be like with the different levels. Talk it over, and find what works for you.

At least, that’s what I’m planning.


Last time pays for all.

Rechan says:

On the topic of using Evocation for maneuvers: Does the target get a defensive roll, or are you just trying to statically beat their defensive skill?

Fred got this one on the comment thread. Thanks, Fred! Just to elaborate how that meshes with the earlier comment about the power levels needed for Evocation, the target still makes a defensive roll, but the attacker needs that minimum amount of power to make the Maneuver take place. So, if you’re trying to tag someone with Blown Away, and they’ve got Great +4 Might, you need to have 4 shifts of power in your air Evocation for it to affect them, but you still need to roll to hit their Fair +2 Athletics, and they get a roll to dodge it.

So any word on your next Dresdenverse campaign? :)

Well, I’ve talked it up with some of my players, and the interest is there. But I really want to wait until I’ve got the physical books – it just makes everything easier. That said, in the next week or so, I’m going to start posting some thoughts here about designing the campaign. Starting with some ruminations on the Power Levels and what they imply in terms of characters, stories, mood, and tone in the game. And then, I think, I’ll look at some options for settings that aren’t cities.

You can drop inhuman x or other supernatural powers into the Were-form right? Or is there anything else that symbolizes the “You have a form that you use to battle”? I’m actually pondering a “Dr Jeckyl/Mr Hyde” character.

You can certainly drop those things on the template. In fact, you must add at least -2 worth of other powers. There is, however, a limited list of what qualifies for Were-Form powers. Of course, as has been discussed repeatedly, the templates are simply a guide.

Christopher says:

Regarding what you said about Buffy-verse vampires:

That’d work. Of course, it wouldn’t be that difficult to build Buffyverse vampires with the system, but then you either need to create a new Court, or get rid of the Dresdenverse idea of Courts, with all their wonderful rich politicking potential.

Maybe vampires are like humans — and some of them just plain HATE politics. The Buffy-verse vampires, what with their long history of “impulse control,” could well be just a breed who “hate all that donkeys and elephants crap,” and are looked down on (IE “never mentioned”) by the vampires of the various courts. After all, there are renegade wizards and wild fey– why not some “rogue vampires?”

Just a thought.

Sure! That’s completely doable. It’s just that – in my mind – that’s creating a new Court, even if it’s the Court of No-Court, if you take my meaning. But yeah, that works fine.

Bosh says:

Question: how supernatural something is seems to scale with how powerful they are (more supernatural = lower refresh blah blah), how then does the game handle critters that are very supernatural but not very powerful at all such as Toot Toot?

Fred got this one, too. Thanks again, Fred! One thing that I’d add is that not all your bad guys – or good guys – need to have started at the same Refresh as your PCs. So, even if Toot-Toot has only a -4 Refresh Cost, that doesn’t necessarily mean he has free will – he may have started with a Refresh of 3, say.

Sephilum says:

What stunts must a ghoul take according to the template? And what is the base refresh cost for each?

Fred got this one, too! Go, Fred! And thanks once more! For an example of how we twisted that idea around during our playtest, check out Christian Manger. Take note, though, that the number noted for those Powers are not the same in the final game version.


‘Thanks for doing all of this. You’re awesome! :)

You’re welcome!

Fred Hicks says:


I’m looking at the discussion of a pure mortal being able to fight a wizard, above — talking about an expert martial artist with a few stunts and a ton of fate points going up against a wizard, and “see how long that wizard lasts”… Well, right! Wizards are potent when they get a chance to prepare — or, if they have a solid talent at Evocation, when they get a chance to see you coming. But they’re squishy, too, which is very true to the source material. In Storm Front, Harry gets taken down by a relatively common thug with a baseball bat at one point.

How someone will fare in a conflict in our system is highly, highly dependent on how much control they have over what battles they get into and what circumstances and preparation they can bring to bear. It’s definitely a “planner’s” system in that respect — which again, we feel resembles the source material pretty well. Combo that with our advice to GMs to put the PCs under time pressure, always driving things forward, the ability to make those choices will certainly be constrained at times. That’s the tension of the novels, and that’s the tension I want to see in a game.

This is a very important little clarification here. Looking back at the discussion Fred mentions, it’s easy to see how the impression can be that Wizards don’t have a chance against Pure Mortals, and that’s just wrong. The point that I was trying to make was that Pure Mortals can share the stage with Wizards, and Knights of the Cross, and Faeries, and Vampires, and not be the weak sisters!

Character creation in DFRPG is essentially point-buy, and that means that most characters will wind up with a specialty area or two. Can Murphy beat up Harry hand-to-hand? Sure. But Harry can probably prevail at range, thanks to his magic. If you want to triumph in this game’s conflict system, you gotta know your Sun-Tzu, and bring your strength against the enemies weakness.

And surprise, as ever, is the great equalizer.

Rel Fexive says:


Numero uno – Evocation can be used for an attack OR a manoeuvre – um, maneuver – but it takes a bit more power to do both? So a ‘firebolt’ could burn someone or set them “on fire”, but more power will do both at the same time?

John Hawkins came up with a good compromise for this on the comment thread. Thanks, John! One thing that needs to be said, though, is that you essentially get a Maneuver whenever your target takes a Consequence – the attack is putting an Aspect on the character. So, if you hit someone for 5 shifts of damage with your firebolt, and they’ve only got 4 stress boxes, they may wind up taking the Consequence Clothes on Fire from the attack.

Numero, uh, duo? – I like the ‘rogue’ or ‘wild’ vampire idea for a Dresden/Buffy mashup, but if I were bringing the two together somehow I think I would concentrate more on bringing a Slayer-like character into a Dresden game then trying to force the two to mostly coexist somehow. To me there are too many disparities (the Courts, the nature of vampires, etc) for it to be a smooth blend. Others might have other ideas of course :)

Both universes are pretty full of good source material and rich mythology. Picking and choosing what you take from each is the secret to a good mash-up, and everyone’s gonna have their own ideas.

Only one more Q&A?!? How will we cope?! ;)

Re-read the novels. That’s what I’m doing. 🙂

James says:

When can I buy it and how much will it cost?

John Hawkins got the when part. As for cost, Your Story is set at $49.99, and Our World at $39.99. Prices were apparently just added to the home page today.

Knave says:

My earlier point was more that the beauty of the thing is that clever aspects and a stack of fate chips to use them gives a character as much flexibility/spotlight as serious power does so packing in the stunts is certainly not the only way to skin this particular cat.


Tim “Your Personal Undead” Popelier says:

I don’t think this has come up yet, but I might be wrong. (gosh you should be sick of people saying that by now, no wonder your stopping)

I’m not stopping because I’m sick of the questions, just because doing this is eating all my time, and I need a little bit of that back. 😉

Anyhow, could you give us a idea of how true names as handled in the game. And perhaps also, how are they used as a bartering offer like harry does, do they add a special tag for the demon, (know part of your true name) or something like that?

True Names work in a few ways. For one thing, they act as symbolic links to a creature, letting spellcasters target them with Thaumaturgy at a distance. Second, they can be tagged for bonuses using spells (like Bindings) against creatures. Third, they can allow Evocations to target a demon’s essential self, instead of just its corporeal manifestation.

Knave says:

@Rick re: Harry v Victor S.

Thanks for the info : ) – I’m guessing that Victor’s statblock has had a tune up since it was published in the October Status update on the dresdenfilesrpg.com where it had both his conviction and discipline as Great and Killing Flame as 7 shifts ( conviction + rod + lawbreaker bonus ). – I assumed he’d cast it with a roll of 0 for an effective Weapon:7 + 4 targeting. (assuming he managed to soak up the 4 shifts of mental stress that would cause him – granted)

which would mean Harry with an athletics of Fair (again by the character sheet from the site) would need to roll better than +2 to make the dodge and avoid taking a hit of at least 7 shifts of fire damage… which basically brought me back to the magical defence, and my clarification question:

How much damage does the defence prevent? Assume that Harry does have 7 shifts of damage and 4 shifts of targeting coming at him, in order to take no damage does he need to summon up a defence of power 11 with no targeting element, only control? Or is it power + targeting of 11? i.e. in an attack the discipline ‘finesse’ element (sort of) counts twice – once for control of the power and once for targeting and in that targeting capacity as a bonus to your effectiveness – the ‘what makes Luccio so dangerous element’ – but from what you said that targeting element isn’t present in defence. Is that right?

Because if it is right Harry sure as heck better win initiatiative and shoot first, or just creating the shield he’ll be taking (superb conviction(5) 1 shift + an additional 6 shifts of mental stress to get the power to 11 plus 11 – (good discipline(3) + roll) mental stress to control it -> which works out at 15 +- 4 to defend against 11 damage… which can’t be right?

If the targeting roll does count toward the total he’d need to make a shield of power 8 (4 stress) + take 5 stress on the control (assuming he rolled 0) to control the shield… in which case he needs to soak 9 mental stress to prevent 11 physical damage… which still seems wrong.

The last possibility I can think of is that he only needs to defend against the power of the spell -> i.e. 7 damage. In which case he’d need to spend 3 stress getting the power to put up the shield and 4 to control it (again assuming a 0 roll) for a total of 7 mental stress to avoid 11 physical stress, which is at least better than dodging with an athletics of fair.

I’m probably way off base though.

Thanks again, and sorry for getting all mathematical on you :p

No worries about the math. But I missed something that Matthew pointed out below. Thanks, Matthew! You may be new to FATE, but you’re dead on with what you said.

Harry’s block only needs to beat the targeting roll. If it keeps the fire from hitting him, he takes no damage. He’d only need to soak up all the damage with the block if he had failed his defense roll entirely, in which case he’d deduct the shifts of power in the block from the damage. For an example in the novels, check out what happens when he tries to soak up a blast from a flamethrower in Blood Rites.

Lucart says:

If someone has an aspect on them like ‘Thrown to the Ground’ on them, does that aspect have to be tagged in order to impair their movement? Are they still free to move at will (with the aspect still there) as long as nobody has tagged it trying to stop them?

Knave got this one. Thanks, Knave!

Rechan says:

If DFRPG is about an enemy’s prep, how do you avoid the pitfall of “The PCs kick in the door of the villain’s hideout, and pretty much walk into a death trap because the villain has prepped his lair/has all his toys right on hand”? It’s rather easy to imagine any villain being fairly prepped for a frontal assault. And as the DM, you can give your villain as much prep as you want – so how do you justify LESS prep on his behalf?

Knave and Tim had some good advice on this in the comment thread. Thanks, Knave and Tim! My own advice is trying to stay within the bounds of verisimilitude with the villain’s prep, based on the following questions that I ask myself:

  1. What does the villain want? This says a lot about his outlook. Someone who wants world domination is going to be a much better planner (well, maybe) than someone who just wants to eat all the homeless people he can find.
  2. How is the villain pursuing this goal? Careful plotters are better at prep than psychotics with poor impulse control.
  3. How far along is the plan? Early on, not as much preparation time has been invested than later on.
  4. What does the villain know about the heroes? Pretty much every supernatural creature knows Harry, and will have some idea of how to deal with him, but fewer know Sigrun Gard, and may not have planned for that battleaxe.
  5. What resources does the villain have? If you’re living on the street or hiding your dark magic from your wife, it limits what you can set up. Also, as far as resources, information sources and resources for advance warning become important.

Now, you don’t have to answer these questions in order to find out how much prep the villain can set up – you can, but you don’t have to. What I often do is work backward – decide how ready the villain is (i.e. how hard do I want to smack the players), and then come up with the answers that lead to that.

Also check out the scenario-building advice in the book. It’s got some very good bits on villain motivation and resources.

Matthew says:

(new to Fate/DFRPG discussions; be gentle)

Regarding the Victor vs Harry discussion:

Doesn’t the attack have to ‘hit’ (control roll >= defense roll) in order to do any damage at all? So wouldn’t it make sense to use your defensive magic to ‘deflect’ the incoming attack (via a Block) instead of trying to ’soak’ the damage? In the example given (Weapon: 7 with 4 control) a block strength of 5 would be enough, rather than 11 shifts to negate the damage. This might entail simply using Discipline as a Block (possibly powered by Fate points) rather than formally casting a spell. Or perhaps an actual spell would add shifts to the defensive control roll, making it easier to block attacks at the cost of stress to cast the defensive evocation.

Then again, I won’t pretend to fully understand the system. Perhaps one of the experts can clarify?

As I mentioned above, Matthew, you got this one right. I had missed this important bit when writing about it previously. Thanks for chiming in and setting us straight!

Exploding_brain says:

Could Bob be made into a playable character? Maybe only when he’s riding Mister (who obviously has an ample supply of free will to loan him). I have this image of B-squad adventure, in which Bob (with Mister’s help), Toot-Toot, and Mouse, (and maybe Billy?, or would it be more fun to add Butters or Molly?) have to deal with something in Harry’s absence.

Bob has no stats in the book. Could he be a playable character? Sure, you could work him out that way, especially with him riding Mister to cut down on the cost of his Spirit Form power. And that B-squad adventure sounds like fun, though I’d go with Butters rather than Billy or Molly, just to keep the overt powers down. But that’s just me.

What kind of game mechanics reflect Little Chicago?

No game mechanics are given for Little Chicago. I’m gonna quote the reference from the book here, because I think it’s a beautiful example of how flexible the game is, and how much room there is for both player and GM creativity:

Little Chicago gets some play here, but it’s unclear how that manifests—is it a complex high quality spell component, or an actual focus item investment, or a special plot contrivance concession by the GM? Jury’s out— each GM out there might run it differently.

See what I mean?

How hard would it be to remove the problems that wizards have with post-WWII technology? Maybe you want to drift the game into something that would allow Mage style Sons of Ether, or Ghostbusters tech. Or possibly you want that one-of-a-kind wizard who has found a way to prevent that particular complication.

Bosh is right that it’s easy to remove. Thanks, Bosh! But there is a little more to the effect than just compelling an Aspect. There are rules and mechanics for both accidental and deliberate hexing of technology, for good and ill.

Do other types of magic mess up modern tech? Could Harry use Toot-toot to wipe the hard drives of his enemies?

Hexing is reserved for mortal spellcasters, and there’s a very interesting discussion as to why that is in the book.

One last time, thanks so much for the (deep and extended) peek at the game. It makes me more confident that ever to say the following:

@Evil Hat, now I know how some folks feel about the iPad. To misquote Ryan Sohmer, I dearly want to transfer money from my bank account into yours, and I’m OK with that. :-)

I’m right there with you, my friend. And thanks for the kind words.

Murph (No,not that one) says:

Just found out about the upcoming DFRPG a few weeks ago and have greatly enjoyed reading this Q&A, so a big CHEERS to Rick and all the contributors.

On behalf of myself and all the other folks chipping in, you’re welcome!

Anyways, a quick question if you don’t mind. How much refresh does Physical Immunity cost during character creation? (I have a descendant of Balder concept for an NPC I would mind solidifying up a little)

Physical Immunity is a stunning -8, but you get some of that back when you take a Catch, which is required for the power, as John Hawkins points out in the comment thread. Thanks, John!

Thanks for all your effort Rick, it must have been quite taxing at times.

You’re welcome. It was work, but it was a labour of love.

@Fred It’s been close to 13 years since I’ve done the whole P&P gaming thing,but this has seriously relit the fire so to speak and I can’t wait to get my hands on the books. The fate system sounds awesome and much more along the lines of how I prefer to play than the old systems I did indeed play. I think I will have to buy SOTC to get a general feel for the system while waiting for DFRPG. (not to mention it sounds pretty damn cool itself!)

John’s recommendations for other games to check out is very good. I would go a step further, and say to take a good look at the Indie Press Revolution site – there’s a wonderful, varied assortment of games that will knock your socks off. I’m particularly partial to Dogs in the Vineyard, Trail of Cthulhu, and How We Came To Live Here for innovative design and cool ideas.

So, thanks for the hard work and the openness about the development of the game. I, and I’m sure many,many others, really appreciate it.


Oh, also, from a previous Q&A session someone was asking which element lightning came under air or earth. I don’t have it with me, but I seem to remember in Storm Front (novel or comic) that Harry was talking about all five elements being present within the storm while squaring off against the toad demon. I swear he states that lightning represented fire, just in case anyone was still wondering. I’m probably wrong, stupidity runs in the family.

There’s a good discussion in the Evocation section called Mommy, Where Does Lightning Come From? that talks about how phenomena can be mapped to different elements, based on the desires and imagination of the Wizard, so yeah, lighting as Fire works just fine.

Knave says:

@Matthew – re: magic defence

That’s possible, but my understanding is that a fire evocation produces actual fire, so it doesn’t really track to be able to deflect it just by rolling discipline without casting – unless you can do the same thing against a flame thrower.

True, but if the block makes the fire splash into the wall instead of hitting you in the face, you don’t need to worry about the fire. Well, not as much. As for the flamethrower, the difference is that magical fire will require fuel to keep burning. If it hits a barrier of force in mid-air, there’s nothing there for it to burn, so it goes away. A flamethrower, though, is spewing burning fuel that sticks and clings to the nothing in the air, and we go again to the scene in Blood Rites.

Rel Fexive says:

RE: magic defence — such a defence, like with Harry’s shield bracelet, is apparently done as a Block that can be eroded by every attack it blocks (or so I’ve deduced from previous comments). I’ve not got ‘the book’ but I reckon that means that a character would cast a spell in the normal way (power/Conviction, then control/Discipline) to end up with a number of shifts that represents the strength of the Block/shield. This would probably then be matched against the number of shifts used in the attack – any attack – and probably with the “damage bonus” added on; so shifts + Weapon:X vs Block shifts, because heavier hits are harder to stop.

I imagine the Block then either stops the attack cold (by having more shifts) or lets some through (by not having enough), and can be reduced by the hit in some fashion. This would seem to reflect the source.


Evocation blocks collapse if the attack punches through. They also only last for a single round, unless you spend some of your power shifts on maintaining it. But if you use it as a defense instead of armour – the deflect vs. soak discussion from above – you only need to beat the targeting roll to avoid taking damage.

vultur says:

Are there stats for fungus demons?

In general, asking for a complete list would probably be too much; but we’ve seen previews of the character types, but not really anything on the monsters. Can you give an idea of what monsters are included?

Rechan gave a very nice and complete answer to this in the comment thread. Thanks, Rechan!

Lanodantheon says:

Awesome Q&A!!!


Probably the last question I’ll be able to ask before just doing it myself when the game comes out.

How would I give someone a “Spirit Sword ” ala Yu Yu Hakusho. Basically it’s a conjured sword made of Spirit energy. My first blush is Claws.

If anyone else with access to the material cares to weigh in, please do.

And indeed, someone else did! Thanks, John Hawkins! His very complete response pretty much covers anything I could have thought of, and more. There are a myriad of ways of doing something like this in the system; you’ll pick the one that produces the jazz you like best when you build your character, and negotiate with the GM.

It’s all about negotiating with the GM. 😉

So, we wind down to the end of this little Q&A.We’ve got 14 installments, and a total word count just north of 37,000. That’s about a third of a good-sized novel. And this final one is the longest of the bunch.

I’ve put a link to the complete Q&A series on the DFRPG Playtest Samples page, so it’s easy for folks to find.

I want to thank everyone who has come by to read, to ask questions, to answer questions, and just generally talk about the game. I think you all start to understand my enthusiasm for the game by now, right?

And you’re all going to buy it, right?

I especially want to thank Fred, Lenny, and Chad, not only for joining in on the discussion and helping keep me honest and on track – obviously, they know the game far better than I do – but for having the visionary idea of a Disclosure Pledge for the playtesters in the first place. It’s a fairly new way of looking at the community of gamers, as a vocal force that you can mobilize on behalf of your product, and it shows a great deal of respect and appreciation for their fans out here in the world.

And it let me see and talk about the game early, so bonus! 😉

It’s been a fun ride, everyone. Thanks for sharing it with me.

Now I go back to my other games, and my other writing. But I’m not leaving Dresden Files behind. Not by a long shot.

I am eagerly awaiting the June release of the final hardcover books, so I can get into setting up my own campaign.



Unlucky 13! Black 13! Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged! Other obscure 13 references!

And away we go…

Bosh says:

The more I hear about the magic system the more I want this game, it’s the first time that I’ve EVER heard of a magic system in a game that functions like how magic generally does in fantasy novels. If the system actually works as it’s described that’ll be a massive step forward for the Fate system. I’m already having ideas floating around my head about how to hack it for other settings. For example in a more historical game it seems you could get an awesome magic system by just ripping most of evocation out.

I’m tremendously happy with the feel and mechanics of the magic system. And you’re right – the system is eminently lootable for other games where you want the same sort of feel from the magic system.

Atlatl Jones says:

You wrote about the spray attack as a “special action”. Are there other kinds of special actions detailed in the book?

First off, “special action” is my term, not a game term. It’s a special-case rule governing one narrow type of situation. There are a couple of other things, like special effect attacks (tasers and the like, for example), impact damage, explosions, environmental hazards, etc. The place they fit in the game is more as a side effect or special circumstance to a normal situation that requires a few extra rules to give it the proper feel.

I’m also curious how the extended conflicts rules work, the ones that were based on Spirit of the Century’s chase rules.

They work pretty much the same as in SotC, but are slightly simplified to cover more options without getting bogged down.

Bosh, I agree. If I felt like running a Buffy game, I would use this in a second (maybe with one or two extra boxes of stress). Buffy clearly has a low refresh, and Willow spent so much refresh on magic powers that she briefly became an NPC.

It would work very nicely for this.

Right now, though, I want to run a Victorian London version of the Dresdenverse. Maybe centered upon the upheval that Bram Stoker unwittingly unleashed upon the vampire courts’ balance of power.

Ooooooh… that sounds like a lot of fun! If you do run something like that, please let me know how it goes.

After taking another look at the power list, I’m convinced that the Dresden Files RPG would be a great fit for the Fading Suns setting. I’d just borrow the starship combat rules from Diaspora, and make all the motley aliens, theurgists, psychics, Changed, and symbiotes using the powers. There’s not much like evocation, but theurgy is basically thaumaturgy, and I could see some theurgists or psychics having channelling for a single element or type of force.

As I said, the magic system is eminently lootable for other settings. Fading Suns is a setting that I really like, though I always felt kind of let down by the system.

Bosh says:

Atatl: exactly, just like SotC unleashed a whole flood of people hacking SotC to different genres, I think we’ll see the same kind of flood with Dresden magic and creature creation rules (which are pretty generic/toolkit-ish) being adapted to all kinds of fantasy. For example the rules we’ve seen so far for statting out supernatural creatures seem like they’d be absolutely perfect for, say, Simarillion elves (too low refresh and you get on a boat ;) ) that can actually work in a party without either watering them down to humans with pointy ears or having them steal all the spotlight. Low refresh works beautifully for the sort of powerful but passive shtick we often see with Tolkein’s elves. And this is just one example, I could think of a dozen more just off the top of my head.

I love this take on Tolkien’s elves.

Ryan says:

I have been stalking your Q&A and I must say, WOW! Great info.

Thanks! Glad you’ve been enjoying it.

I have been loving Dresden Files for a couple years now and this game is driving me nuts with anticipation. I actually do have a question. I don’t think it has been asked yet….

I think it was Gard that was described as using runic magic, like the electrical serpent in the security locker. Would that function as a magic item (soda grenade?) or more like a spell with a conditional trigger? Sorry if this has already been touched on. There has been an incredible amount of awesome here.

Nope, it hasn’t been touched on. In the book, Sigrun Gard is statted up as having Sponsored Magic: Runes. The actual building of the electrical serpent thing would probably work best as a Thaumaturgical ritual, setting a conditional trigger as you suggest.

As for other cool worlds you could use this system on, I’m thinking Elric would be a great fit for the thaumaturgy rules, maybe even Evocation.

Definitely for the Thaumaturgy, though I don’t recall anything in the books about wizards blasting away with power. Still, it could work, if you do it right.

Rel Fexive says:

The good work continues. Um… that’s legally different from The Good Work that we leave to holy types. Anyway…

😉 Probably for the best.

Hi! Can you give us a real brief (like, X is +1 and Y is +3) comparison between weapons (melee and guns) as presented in the rules? I just want to see how they stack up compared to those +8 Earth Stomp spells… I gather much of their advantage is situational, though, so I understand if their ’stats’ aren’t defined enough for such a comparison. The situational stuff itself sounds pretty nifty, too, but I won’t ask you to go into detail on that ;)

Sure! Here’s the default breakdown:

  • Weapon:1 – small pocket weapons, knives, saps, and “belly guns”
  • Weapon:2 – Swords, baseball bats, batons, most pistols.
  • Weapon:3 – Two-handed weapons, oversized pistols (Desert Eagle and company), rifles and shotguns, most fully automatic weapons.
  • Weapon:4 – Anti-personnel weaponry, explosives.

As you note, though, this can play a bit fast and loose, depending on the situation. The advice is pretty light on this – basically, adjust up or down depending on how nasty the weapon is under the circumstances.


You’re welcome!

Exploding_brain says:

Regarding advancement, it sounds like the “deepest” suggested starting level is Submerged (10 Refresh, 35 Skill points, and Skills capped at Superb).


How much deeper does it look like the system lets you go, and how quickly do you acquire those Minor, Significant and Major Milestones?

There is no inherent limitation on advancement. A lot of it is going to depend on what sorts of stories you’re trying to tell. If you want the tale of big-league heroes fighting off the Outsiders and defending all of reality, that’s certainly doable as you increase in power. The real limitation is going to be the GM’s ability to generate interesting, challenging foes and circumstances as he players acquire more and more resources. And that doesn’t look too difficult, what with the build-it-yourself functionality of the Supernatural Powers and the way you can shift conflicts around in three different arenas. I’d say the system supports you right up to at least a Refresh of 20 or 30, after which the GM will have to start considering how to stat out some of the “plot device” foes.

As for how quickly you acquire the advancements, again that’s going to depend on the GM and the stories you’re trying to tell. The default recommendation – and they clearly state that it’s just a recommendation – is:

  • Minor Milestone – conclusion of a  session, or when a significant story piece is resolved.
  • Significant Milestone – conclusion of a scenario when a major plotline is resolved, or about every two or three sessions.
  • Major Milestone – only when something happens that really shakes up the campaign, after a few scenarios or a long, large-scale plotline is resolved.

Do they have guidelines for, say, Harry at the beginning of Small Favor? Any indication for how deep you can go before the system begins to break down? (insert clever submarine, nitrogen poisoning, crush depth, silly extension of analogy here).

They’ve actually got a full page discussing how Harry “levels up” at the end of each novel. By the end of Small Favor, they set him at -16 Refresh, starting from -9.

As for when the system breaks down, it looks pretty scalable and robust, as I mentioned above. I’d be leery of reaching beyond about Refresh 30, myself, but that’s just because I find it more interesting to have stories centered around people with more mortal concerns than you’d really have left at that level of power.

Calvin says:

Hi Rick. Thanks for all your Q&A. All your hard work is much appreciated.

Thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

Can you tell me about Martial Arts? Are there Martial Arts stunts and Skills? Can you let me know what kinds of stunts are in the book? Do they split things into Hard/Soft styles or types (ie Karate, Kung Fu, etc). And can you combine martial arts with Evocation (ie to create Chi fireballs a la Dragonball).

Lanodantheon got the core of this. Thanks, Lanodantheon! All martial arts would be handled by the skills Fists and Weapons (depending on the style), and then you’d use added Stunts to round them out. As the Stunts are basically do-it-yourself, you can decide the mix of hard/soft, internal/external you want. There are a few example Stunts, like Martial Artist, but this is an area where you get to brew up pretty much exactly the kind of martial artist you like.

And yeah, if you’ve got the Refresh to spend, I can’t see any problem with combining Evocation and martial arts. No problems, at all.

I am asking because I am going to run a Dresden game in Hong Kong and martial arts will be important. Thank you very much.

Sounds very cool. Let me know how it runs for you.

Popo says:

Thanks for these Rick. I’m definitely getting this book.

You’re welcome. And getting the books is, I believe, the proper way to thank Evil Hat for allowing this to happen.

“And can you combine martial arts with Evocation (ie to create Chi fireballs a la Dragonball). ”

Could Channeling accomplish this? I imagine that if you could have a fire channeler, you should be able to have a spirit or force channeler too.

Yup. That would work quite nicely.

I can’t wait to get this for a Buffy campaign I’m going to run. I might just merge the two worlds/stories… I can see many ways that a slayer might exist in the Dresdenverse and I prefer the Dresden File’s magic system. *fan squeal*

Chocolate, meet Peanut Butter.

Atlatl Jones says:

While I don’t expect the game to have detailed martial arts rules, I’m curious about how it represents Murphy’s Aikido.

Well, she’s got Good Fists, three stunts to represent different facets of her martial arts training, three different Aspects that could easily get pulled into a martial arts action, and a raft of Fate Points to use those Aspects.

Popo, I like the way you think. Buffy and the Dresdenverse fit together perfectly. The buffyverse was always rather vague about the nature of magic and the supernatural, so adding in the detail from the Dresden Files would help a GM out a lot. Buffyverse vampires and Black Court vampires have almost identical strengths and vulnerabilities, aside from Buffy vampires being much prettier, so you could just say that all Black Court vampires have the Human Guise power.

That’d work. Of course, it wouldn’t be that difficult to build Buffyverse vampires with the system, but then you either need to create a new Court, or get rid of the Dresdenverse idea of Courts, with all their wonderful rich politicking potential.

Having both the White Council and the Watchers in the same setting opens up a lot of interesting dramatic possibilities too.

It certainly could. Indeed, the Watcher Council could sort of fill in (or share) the niche currently occupied by the Venatori Umborum.

Exploding_brain says:

Can you give us a brief description of how defenses are addressed in the mechanics? For instance, Harry’s leather duster and shield bracelet?

They are produced by two different sub-systems of magic. The duster is an enchanted item that grants Harry armour, so that’s shifts of stress coming directly off attacks. The shield bracelet is a focus item that gives him a bonus to control with defensive Spirit evocations, which manifest using the block mechanic, which is kind of like less enduring armour.

If you wanted a character with bulletproof skin, would it be similar to Harry’d duster, or a supernatural stunt? Could a wizard/sorcerer/channeler/magic mortal take those kinds of supernatural stunts, or are some things like inhuman toughness limited to vampires/faeries/lycanthropes etc?

Inhuman (and higher levels) Toughness are the way to go in order to simulate bulletproof skin. Mythic Toughness gives you Armour:3, so that offsets the damage bonus of things like hunting rifles and Desert Eagles. Coupled with the extra stress boxes it gives you, it very nicely simulates someone who is just damned tough to hurt.

Inhuman Toughness is generally available, but the higher levels require having specific templates in order to take them. At least, by the book. That’s easy for the GM to handwave, but the high levels of all the stat boosting powers are awesome, and letting too many creatures have them would tend to water down their cool factor. Having said that, if I were running a game, and someone started with a lower level, I would be amenable if they wanted to upgrade later using the advancement system.

Knave says:

re: aikido


just try running a mock combat with a 12 refresh pure mortal with fists 5 and athletics 4 say and a few ‘murphylike’ aspects e.g. ‘aikido champion’, ‘cute as a button, but hard as stone’, and maybe even ‘Having another bad day’ (just for good measure) and try putting her up against a wizard… see how long the wizard lasts : p.

Well, she’s not rated quite that high by the book – Good Fists and Athletics. But then, she’s statted out as of Storm Front. As Rechan points out, she’s got a nice stunt that let’s her tag an opponent with the Aspect Thrown to the Ground with a successful defense roll using Fists, as well as a couple of other handy things. The applicable Aspects she has are Don’t Judge Me by my Size, Aikido Master, and Avenging Angel. And her Refresh Cost is -4, so she’s got a stack of Fate Points. It’ll come down to that old contest of whether she can lay hands on the Wizard before he can blast her with Evocation.

Very few things can stand up to a couple of rounds of +6 bonuses so a 12 refresh character is pretty much guaranteed a few rounds of shining brilliance. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one lay the smackdown on a black courter – for a few rounds anyway… :p

My view of combat is that, contrary to something like D&D, where hitting for damage is of primary importance, using maneuvers to impose Aspects is paramount. If you set up a few of those, and pass the free tags to one character who can unload with a few Fate Points, things go splat in a very satisfying manner.

Knave says:

I have a Q about using magic- specifically evocatiion to add aspects to targets. If you want to do something like set a target’s clothes on fire or glue them to the floor how do you go about setting the spell’s power?

Good question! You do this by using Evocation to perform a Maneuver, imposing an Aspect on a successful targeting roll. Power required for a Maneuver defaults to three shifts, but if the target has a resisting Skill of Great +4 or better, then that’s how much power you’ll need. So, if you’re using an Air Evocation to put the Aspect Blown to the Ground against someone with a Might or Athletics of Superb +5, you’ll need five shifts of power. You can also channel extra power to make the Aspect persistent.

Also, how do magical defences/counters work? If, for e.g. Victor Sells hits Harry with his Killing Flame Rote for +7 damage with another +4 on the targeting, how does Harry go about defending himself from a potential 11 points of owie? Does he have to create a fire shield of power 11?

He has to create some sort of shield with a power of 11 if he wants to avoid getting crispy. Now, that said, hitting someone with 11 shifts of stress is gonna be moderately rare – Victor’s rote only lets him call up 5 shifts of power, so he’d have to beat Harry’s dodge by +6 to get that 11 shifts of damage. Considering Harry’s got Athletics equal to Victor’s Discipline, Harry would have to roll at least a -2, while Victor would need a perfect +4 roll. So, yeah, the example you cite looks pretty rough on the defender, but you need to understand the context of those numbers, and see that such a situation would be a real exception to the norm.

Thanks again for all the info!

You’re welcome!

Looks like that’s it for this penultimate edition of the DRPG Q&A. If you have any more questions, make sure you get them to me by Friday, ’cause that’s the last installment, and I will be deaf thereafter to your pleas! Mwahahahahaha!

Ahem. Sorry. See you Friday.