Digging a Little Deeper

So, judging from the traffic coming in this past day, people are very interested in the Dresden Files Role Playing Game preview sent to the playtesters a couple of days ago. I’m still working my way through the books (did I mention it’s almost 700 pages?), but I figured I’d do two things to help satisfy the desire for information.

First, I’m going to invite questions. Want to know something about the game? Leave a question in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer it. One proviso: I’m working from the preview and, while it’s fairly complete, there may still be some last-minute changes. From what I’ve seen, I doubt it, but you should know.

Second, I’m going to put a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the two books below, with a brief comment on what’s in each chapter. That’ll give you some idea of what to expect when the book comes out and you go buy it.

Because you are going to buy it, right? Right.

Volume One: Your Story

This book is about playing the game. It’s a combination of player book and GM book; the co-operative nature of setting up the game advocated in the book makes this a natural choice.

Chapter One: Harry’s World

This chapter gives a short overview of default game world, based on the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher. It lays out some important concepts that you need to understand about the underlying assumptions of the world and game, including a section on Maxims of the Dresdenverse.

Chapter Two: The Basics

Here you get the bones of the FATE system, the modified version of FUDGE that’s the engine driving the game. It covers the mechanics of your character sheet, the dice you roll, what they mean, and how to use Fate Points.

Chapter Three: City Creation

Part of the fun of playing DFRPG is creating the city to be a home base for the game. This chapter walks you through the steps, including showing you where in the process you create the PCs. The system is more structured and focused than the playtest version, and you wind up with a nice collection of aspects and NPCs for your city, as well as some good dynamic situations for your players to deal with.

Now, there’s a sidebar in this chapter that talks about how you don’t really have to do this step as a group with your players. They recommend doing it as a group, though, and so do I. Why? because that way you make sure that the city you build has all the pieces for the kinds of stories and conflicts that your players are interested in dealing with. And it’ll give you some interesting surprises throughout the process.

Chapter Four: Character Creation

In the previous chapter, they recommend that you do the character creation as part of the city creation, to help tie the characters more tightly into the setting. This is a good idea. They also recommend doing character creation as a group. I think this is essential for any FATE game. The novel phase of character creation pretty much demands it.

They also mention the idea of having the GM create a character, and I found this to be a great idea in the playtest. We had multiple playtest character generation sessions, and I created a number of NPCs this way. It gave me a nice stable of NPCs with ties to and history with the PCs. I’m going to go one step farther than their recommendation, though; I’m going to suggest holding a couple of extra character creation sessions to have your players help put together some NPCs.

Chapter Five: Types & Templates

This is where they list the different types of characters available, and what powers and stunts you need. The options outlined here are:

  • Pure Mortal
  • Champion of God
  • Changeling
  • Emissary of Power
  • Focused Practitioner
  • Knight of a Faerie Court
  • Lycanthrope
  • Minor Talent
  • Red Court Infected
  • Sorcerer
  • True Believer
  • Were-Form
  • White Court Vampire
  • White Court Virgin
  • Wizard

There’s also a discussion about what to do if you don’t want to play one of these archetypes, but instead want to play something different, like, say, a Ghoul. Really, it’s pretty easy and flexible.

Chapter Six: Advancement

I haven’t looked closely at this section yet, but along with the standard information about how the characters advance, there’s also a section on how your city advances, which I think is a brilliant idea.

Chapter Seven: Aspects

Aspects are the meat of the system. They’re what makes FATE work. The discussion in this chapter spells out everything you need to know about them, including the kinds of things that make good Aspects, and what I call the Aspect Trick – picking Aspects that do double or triple duty for you.

Chapter Eight: Skills

Not much to say about this chapter. It’s skills –  the list of them, how to use them in different situations and for different purposes, stuff like that.

Chapter Nine: Mortal Stunts

Stunts are what give mortals their edge in the game. The way things balance, mortals will be the ones with the most stunts available to them. These are usually special ways to use some skills, or a different thing you can spend a Fate Point on, little things like that. Nothing huge, but stunts can really add flavour and variety to a character.

The chapter consists of three pages of rules for creating your own stunts, and then about nine pages of example stunts. This is very nice; one of the things my group had asked for during playtest was an expanded list of example stunts. And Evil Hat came through in spades.

Chapter Ten: Supernatural Powers

The counterpart to the stunts of the previous chapter, supernatural powers are the extra gravy you get for playing a supernatural character – the things that set you apart. These are expensive, and really cut into the Refresh Rate of Fate Points. This is the primary balance mechanic between mortal and supernatural characters, the thing that lets you play a Karin Murphy alongside a Harry Dresden. There’s about thirty pages of these, and it covers a wide enough range to let you build just about anything you want.

Chapter Eleven: Playing the Game

This section covers pretty much the entire mechanics of the game – it’s about thirty pages (well, twenty-eight), and handles actions and physical, mental, and social conflicts. Except for spellcasting, this is all the system you need. The system is great for running very cinematic, action-packed scenes, and we found that physical conflicts were threatening enough that the players were worried every time one came up that their characters would die. This is, I think, important for a game – there needs to be some risk, or success and failure stop mattering. It also led to some great roleplaying, as players (and characters) did their best to figure out ways to avoid the risk of combat, sometimes even just running away.

Chapter Twelve: Living With Magic

Here’s where the nature and flavour of magic in the Dresdenverse are laid out. Here, you find out about things like hexing, The Sight, soulgazing, the Laws of Magic, Thresholds, and Wizard biology and senses. The next chapter tells you how magic works, but this is the chapter that tells you how magic feels.

Chapter Thirteen: Spellcasting

It’s a game about modern magic, based on a series of books with a Wizard for a main character. You better bet that spellcasting gets some love, here. I’ve already talked a little about how the system has been changed to bring spellcasters into balance with the other character types. There have been a couple of other things added that really fill in some gaps: first, along with Evocation and Thaumaturgy, they’ve added a section on Sponsored Magic, which is essentially what you get when you make a bargain with a demon or a god. Second, they’ve included a nice list of examples of all the different things discussed in the chapter: evocations, thaumaturgical rituals, focus items, enchanted items, and potions. Very useful, because this is the most complex part of the game.

Chapter Fourteen: Running the Game

This is the GM chapter, and covers the GM side of all the things spelled out in other parts of the book. As is usual with Evil Hat stuff, it’s solid, useful, and detailed. The advice is practical and insightful, everything focused on telling a good story with the game.

Chapter Fifteen: Building Scenarios

One of my favourite bits of Spirit of the Century is the section on building adventures. This chapter does at least as good a job, showing how to build the kinds of situations and events you see in the Dresden Files books. It’s all about connections, in this game, tying you into the city and characters you’ve already created, so that everyone has an emotional investment in what’s going on.

Chapter Sixteen: Nevermore/Baltimore

All through the city-building chapter, they use the example of Dresdenifying the city of Baltimore. Here, they give you the results of of the fleshed-out example, a ready-to-play city for your use.

After this, there follows a glossary and index, as well as copies of the various forms and sheets used in the game. The index isn’t filled in, yet, but the rest of the stuff is complete and useful.

Volume Two: Our World

This is the setting book for the game, though some of the setting elements are covered in Volume One. As I said previously, you cold probably play the game without this book, but I think you’re really going to want it. Especially if you’re a fan of the books.

It looks like the book is going to open with a new story by Jim Butcher; for now, they have the short story Restoration of Faith as a placeholder.

Chapter One: Old World Order

Here we’ve got the low-down on the various power groups in the Dresdenverse and how they relate to one another. There’s a detailed discussion of the Unseelie Accords, as well as a lovely little section called Supernatural Conflicts That Could Kill You RIGHT NOW. Fun stuff.

Chapter Two: What Goes Bump

This chapter has a complete, detailed, statted roster of monsters, spellcasters, animals, and mortals. This does double-duty, both as a section of adversaries, and as a blueprint for building characters. It also has a very useful little list of how the various different supernatural baddies stack up against each other, so you can answer that vital question, “Who would win in a fight between a Faerie Queen and a Dragon?”

Chapter Three: Who’s Who

And this is where you find all your favourite characters from the Dresden Files. And the ones you love to hate. And the ones you’ve completely forgotten about. This section is amazingly complete – even if you never play the game, if you’re a fan of the Dresden Files, this book is a wonderful guide to the world.

Chapter Four: Occult Chicago

Carrying on in that theme, here we have Harry’s city: Chicago, in all it’s supernatural glory. Yeah, that’s right. Between the two books, you get two, fully-worked up cities, in case you don’t want to create your own, or if you need some inspiration. Because of the wealth of source material in the series, Chicago is a little more fleshed-out than Baltimore, and it’s got a lot of good information for play.

That’s it. After that, you get the index.

So, there’s the look at the two volumes of the game. I gotta say, it’s impressing me more and more as I read through it. It’s good stuff. I can’t wait to buy my hard copies this summer.

But that’s enough out of me. What are you folks interested in? What questions can I answer? Let me know, and I’ll do my best.

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18 Responses to Digging a Little Deeper

  1. Fred Hicks says:

    Thanks for doing this writeup! Saves me the trouble, really. 😉

  2. Rick Neal says:

    Glad to do it. In case there’s any doubt, I’m really digging the books. 😀

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  4. “Because of the wealth of source material in the series, Chicago is a little more fleshed-out than Baltimore, and it’s got a lot of good information for play.”

    Point of fact: Chicago is not fully game-statted as Baltimore is, but it’s got a METRIC TON of cool, real-world (not necessarily series-based) weirdness in it.

  5. Lanodantheon says:

    Question: Does the magic section talk about the limits of magic’s interaction with technology?
    What I’m talking about is the magic items/foci/whatever-they’re-called that interact with technology to work.
    (Specifically, Elaine’s chain thingie that she charges in a light socket.)

  6. Rechan says:

    Hey Rick! I lost the URL for your site, I’m really glad to be back. 🙂

    The DM chapter, does it talk about how to make adventures? To be honest, the DFRPG scares me in terms of GMing, because coming up with a cohesive mystery every “week” is really daunting! I know “Tie it to your players aspects”, but for instance if they smoke one PC’s nemesis, that aspect – that avenue – is gone. Same thing if they shut down something one player is very concerned about, then it’s hard to bring back. Not to mention other matters of maintaining a good Noir/Mystery/whatnot feel to the game, like clues and how to make things not obvious, does it address this well?

    Are Pure Mortals the only ones that can take mortal stunts?

    How is Sponsored Magic different? Is it a template that can be dropped onto any PC? Or access to new stunts/powers? It handles stuff like deals with Fey too, right? Or is that just “Hey, look at Emissary”.

    This is also a general question for you. You talk about multiple character creation sessions. How do you deal with players who want to Get to the Game RIght Now? A lot of people I know would not be patient enough for spending more than x hours doing that sort of thing. And, doing City AND character creation simultaneously sounds very… ADD. How do you organize that?

  7. James Cartwright says:

    Great write-up, can’t wait for these books.

    Are there stats for ‘Mouse’ in the books and is there the ability to make your own temple animals like ‘mouse’?


  8. Rel Fexive says:

    Mmmm, yummy info.

  9. Lenny Balsera says:

    Rechan: I wouldn’t worry as much as you seem to be worried about the whole “mystery” element of Dresden Files stories. In my opinion, very few of the Dresden Files novels qualify as mystery stories in a hardcore sense. Harry doesn’t “cat and mouse” his adversaries, nor they him – he gathers just enough information to make cool choices and move the plot, and then takes drastic action to stop a nefarious scheme. We often know “whodunit” way before the end of the book. Revelation, where it exists, more often comes in the form of “world/setting knowledge, or relationship/backstory knowledge, that we didn’t know before”.

    The game advises you to start from the most practical point possible – that being, an NPC and their motivations – and work your way back from there. I think it works out pretty well, especially if you take all the other advice in the GM chapter about making rolls interesting and whatnot. What it comes down to is this: who is your NPC, what do they want, how do they go about it, and how far along have they gotten before the PCs get introduced to the situation? The further along they are, the more clues there are to distribute.

  10. Jon Hammersley says:

    So how are enchanted items handled? Some (potions) are obviously single use items but how do you limit something like Harry’s ring that stores kinetic energy?

    Does using a specific created foci (ritual knife, blasting rod, staff, etc) decrease the difficulty of controlling magical forces and how does it do so?

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  13. Iorwerth says:

    How do weapons and armour work? Do they just add stress levels / subtract stress levels?

    As to magic, when drawing down power do you need to roll, or do you just draw down a level equal to the relevant skill, whatever that skill is?

    Once you have drawn down the power I believe you roll your control. Do you need to get a score above the power level to control it? if you don’t, I presume it spills out and has unforseen effects, and may do the caster damage?

    With a stress inducing spell, does it do the power level in stress points, or the level of control you have, or something else?

  14. Stacey says:

    Great write up!

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