Dresden Files RPG Demo: Return to Magical Winnipeg

Last Thursday night, I ran a demo session of DFRPG for a group of players who are planning to start up a new campaign. Karla and Trachalio, whose names you will have seen in the comments of this blog from time to time, are two of the DMs running D&D Encounters with me on Wednesday nights, and Karla is planning to GM DFRPG, with Trachalio and some others from the Encounters group. After a bit of a misfire running Spirit of the Century, Karla wanted to get a little more of a handle on the FATE mechanics before starting the game, so I said I’d run a one-shot for them to give them a taste.

Now, I knew from reading some of the reports from the game launch at Origins that, when the Evil Hat folks run demos, they built in a bit of the character creation, so I sent an email to Fred Hicks asking how they did that ((And thanks to Fred for the answer!)). He said that they usually build the pregens up to the point of the guest star phases, and have the people at the table finish them up. It gives them a taste of the cool character creation, and really cements the characters into a group. So, I whipped up ((When I say “whipped up,” I mean “spent several days trying different things and fiddling with them to get a decent mix with a wide range of possibilities but limited complexity.” Character creation in the game is very fun, but not all that quick. I also found that building the characters on my own, without the group brainstorming and kibitzing, was kinda boring.))a stack of pregens to the required level of done-ness.

To help keep things simple, I decided that I would build the characters at Feet in the Water level, but it soon became clear that, if I wanted to give the group some experience with the whole range of mechanics and possibilities in the game, I needed someone with access to both Thaumaturgy and Evocation ((Or, as I finally settled on, Channeling and Ritual.)), so I upped the power level to Up to the Waist. Here’s the list of the six characters I used:

  • Apprentice Wizard
  • Coyote Shifter
  • Herald of Night
  • New Age Wiccan
  • Rookie Cop
  • Wendigo’s Child

I sweated some time on coming up with a solid scenario that would involve them all and show off the various types of mechanical things that go on in a game. In the end, I went with a very loose framework to allow me room to improvise as required, and just put together a fairly simple situation for them to get involved in. In play, this turned out to be a good choice, because it let me very easily weave in the relationships that had been built at the table between the characters doing the guest-star phases ((It also made it very easy to expand or collapse the chain of investigation, allowing me to pace the game to fit the time available to us. It being a weeknight, we pretty much wanted to make sure we were done by 11 or so.)).

So, we gathered together that evening, and I gave a quick rundown of the FATE mechanics. Then we handed out the player folders ((Each one contained not only the character sheet, but a cheat sheet for that character, with all the math done for combat and spellcasting, along with a write-up of all the powers and stunts the character had. This ranged from a single page for the Rookie Cop – a Pure Mortal – to five pages for the Apprentice Wizard, who needed rote spells and some examples of rituals.)) and ran through the last bit of the character creation. This intro section took about an hour, and had the added benefit of letting me talk more about Aspects. It got everyone pretty fired to create their own characters for their campaign, too, so I figure that’s a big win.

We got underway with the Rookie Cop finding the body of a dead person, eviscerated and savaged, hidden behind a dumpster in the Exchange District, outside the studio apartment ((Well, the large empty space where the Shifter keeps a bed and some clothes, and the wizard comes to practice magic his mentor would not approve of.)) where the Coyote Shifter and the Apprentice Wizard were hanging out. That got people focused pretty quick, and the characters very quickly either called in other characters with whom they had an existing relationship or came up with a reason for their characters to show up without an invite.

Poking around yielded a few clues, with the group coming to the conclusion that this was a ghoul kill. The Apprentice Wizard used the Sight to examine the body, and the New Age Wiccan invoked one of her Aspects to be able to see what he saw, so I went to town on the image ((The alleyway got darker and filthier, with the shadows moving in weird ways, and in the midst of it all, on a pristine white table cloth, illuminated as if by a spotlight, was the naked body of a young woman. Her torso had been slit open and peeled back, revealing her to be full of all manner of food, cornucopia-fashion. Then her head tipped to the side and they saw that her eyes were bottomless, empty pools of darkness.)), and got to hit them both in the brain for some good Mental Stress.

A little investigation revealed that the victim in question was probably a runaway, and with a little New Age Psychometry, they got the image of a chalice of wine, a loaf of bread, and a smiling face at the bus depot ((Which, I’ve been told, has already moved out to the airport, so I retroactively set the adventure a couple of years ago. What can I say? I knew the depot was moving, but I didn’t think it had yet. And I haven’t seen the new one (obviously), so I didn’t have any sort of mental picture to use for the game.)), so they hid the body again, using a warding ritual to make sure no one else would find it, and trundled off downtown to see what they could find out.

At the bus depot, they found someone putting up posters for the Church of the Holy Communion ((Acutally, it was supposed to be the Church of the True Communion, but I misspoke when I first said the name, so I had to stick with it)), a religious community that worked with runaways and homeless young people. Using a little coyote deception, they found out where it was located, and got the name of the fellow who was hanging the posters as a recommendation (and invitation).

They headed out to Osborne Village and the house on Gertrude that the Church used as a hostel. Three of them talked their way inside, while the other three scouted around back. Through a basement window, they saw a room full of canned goods and preserves, as well as some odd-shaped hams hanging from the ceiling. A little sniffing, and the shifter could tell them that the hams were not from pigs. The outside contingent slipped in through the basement window.

Meanwhile, inside, the Wendigo’s Child had managed to arouse some suspicion among the residents, and was herded into the dining area, where the Apprentice Wizard and the New Age Wiccan were already enjoying the soup ((Insert obligatory jokes about the hand in the soup in the Conan movie.)). The church members then pulled out knives and axe handles, and started closing in on next week’s groceries. The Wendigo’s Child used her Incite Emotion power to fill their attackers with despair, while the Apprentice Wizard used the Sight to see that they were in fact tied in some way to actual ghouls – and might be transforming into ghouls themselves. The New Age Wiccan took this knowledge and tried to unravel the bad vibes, weakening the connection between the cultists and their masters.

It worked to a degree, but then our heroes were mobbed by the crazy cultists and had to actually fight back to keep from getting shredded and eaten. The half-wendigo was a pretty rocking melee combatant, and the wizard used air magic to knock the bad guys down. Once there were a fair number down, the wiccan dumped scalding soup on them ((Insert obligatory joke about the head in the soup rolling down the stairs in the Conan movie.)).

When the ruckus upstairs started, the folks in the basement burst out of the store room to find a couple of actual ghouls – as opposed to the human cultists upstairs – heading up the stairs to get in on the fun. A quick tasing by the Rookie Cop, along with a face full of coyote fur, set the first ghoul up for getting clobbered by the Herald of Night, who then invoked his power and Night’s emissary and representative to the Covenant of Two Waters to cow the ghouls and take them into custody.

By that time, we were coming up on quarter to twelve, and I wrapped things up quickly.

All in all, I had a lot of fun with it, and it seemed that the players did, too. I tried to keep the Fate Points flowing freely, and was gratified to see the envious eyes all turning to the Pure Mortal Rookie Cop’s pile of chips and his free-wheeled spending. It reinforces my opinion that Pure Mortals have a coolness all their own in the game.

So, thanks to Karla for inviting me to run the game, and to Ally, Josh, Mike Ryan, and Shawn for playing.

I’m looking forward to hearing about your campaign when it starts running.

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12 Responses to Dresden Files RPG Demo: Return to Magical Winnipeg

  1. Karla says:

    Thanks again for the game, Rick. Seeing mechanics in action is so much more easy to understand than straight off the page – I think by the end everyone had a handle on the idea of stacking aspects rather than damage. Everyone had a good time and I’m psyched for our first session of city building this coming Thursday.

  2. Krisztian says:

    Hey there Rick,

    I’m an avid reader of your posts on this site (lurking in the shadows until now) and I’d like to ask you if it’s possible to get my hands on the player folders you’ve distributed among your fellow players with the character write-up and FATE mechanics.

    I’ve just launched a Starblazer Adventures campaign for my friends and I am planning a Dresden RPG mini campaign too in the near future.
    Our first session was a bit clunky mechanic-wise and I’d be grateful for some professional-made examples to show them to underline the basic differences between FATE and other systems…

    Krisztian from Hungary
    (I’m a guy by the way, Krisztina is the female version of this first name)

  3. Rick Neal says:

    Well, I don’t know that I’d call them PROFESSIONAL examples, but you can download the characters (complete with the cheat sheets) here.

    Hope they’re useful. And good luck with your games!

  4. Zooroos says:

    Hi Rick!

    I really enjoy reading your entries, I really do! The pregens seem all pretty interesting and fun to play, I too am stealing them for my own campaign which, by the way, just finished its second episode, “Circle of trust”. The whole campaign is being posted in Obsidian Portal, but unfortunately its being written in Spanish:

    http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/dresden-santa-fe

    Regards,

    ZOOROOS

  5. Tim Besko says:

    Hi Rick,

    I snagged your pregens too. I just picked up the 2 gamebooks and read Storm Front and it has been about 2 years since I read Spirit of the Century (Which I never got around to playing) so I have some catching up to do. Your blog has been useful and inspirational. I look forward to going back and re-reading your game mechanic posts.

    Not sure I will use Winnipeg as a setting or not since my previous group did that in OWoD but your playtest city building is a good read and I have a head full of other ideas since there is enough good history and current issues around here to fill volumes.

    So, thanks for your insight on the game and sharing your ganes with us.

    Take care,
    Tim

  6. Krisztian Nagy says:

    Rick,

    thanks again for sharing with us your excellent work, this will surely be used in our gaming sessions.

    Take care,

    Krisz

  7. ScottMcG says:

    Rick,

    I’m going to try a semi-impromptu introductory one-shot of DFRPG this coming weekend, and I’m tremendously relieved to find what you’ve shared here. Behold as I shamelessly appropriate everything I can. A couple of us have played some Spirit of the Century, but none of us have played any DF. I’m looking forward to having filling out the character gaps as part of the demo play experience. I’ve done the most reading on the game, but haven’t played any myself yet, so this is going to be a learning experience for all of us. Would you mind sharing what you used for the cultists, ghouls, and general difficulties, in broad strokes, for your run of this? While I feel I have a decent enough grip on the mechanics, but I know I have no sense of balance/challenge levels.

    Thanks again for sharing this.

    -Scott

  8. Rick Neal says:

    Thanks to everyone for the kind words. I’m glad you’re finding this stuff useful.

    Scott, I went pretty bare-bones on the opposition – gave the cultists Average (+1) attacks, defenses, and initiative, with two boxes of stress each, and used the basic ghoul writeup from Our World p59. Challenge levels are a lot more slippery in DFRPG than in things like D&D; there’s a discussion of levels of opposition on p331 of Your Story that breaks it down, but really, in play it’s pretty situational. Combat can be pretty scary in DFRPG, and it’s meant to be that way. Just remember that anyone – PC or NPC – can get out of a conflict before they’re taken out by conceding, and even getting taken out doesn’t mean getting dead.

    For this group of pregens, I threw a whole mob of cultists at the three who faced them, but I only had three cultists attacking each character each turn, so that made things a little more manageable. The logic was that only a few could get close enough to be effective at any given time. I threw two ghouls at the other three characters, and they took them out with very little effort, using a taser and the voice of authority.

    For setting the other difficulties of challenges in the game, take a good look at the rules for setting difficulties on p310 of Your Story. It gives a good breakdown of what the different ranks mean, and what the odds of success look like. It’s important to keep in mind that a two-point difference in this system is A BIG DEAL – the scale of the game is much chunkier than in a d20 game or a d% game. So look at the character’s skills to make sure that the challenge difficulty is actually a reasonable challenge for them.

    Hope that helps.

    Rick

  9. ScottMcG says:

    I thought I’d drop back by and report on our play session. Everyone really had a good time with the “guest starring” phase of completing the pre-gens. The players who didn’t have any experience with fate systems wouldn’t necessarily come up with a good aspect right off the bat, but several came up with interesting concepts that we worked into more versatile aspects. Despite the chaos of the GM (that’s me) not really knowing the system, everyone was pretty engaged from the get-go largely because of the “guest starring” creation phases. For anyone who is thinking of doing a one-shot/intro session of DFRPG I simply can’t recommend keeping this aspect of character creation as part of the play session highly enough.

    Other than fumbling with the rules, another thing I did poorly was compelling. I started out OK with a compel on the Apprentice Wizard’s “Only 16 Years Old” aspect to entice him to “prove himself useful to the adults” and use the Sight on the corpse, and also compelling the New Age Wiccan’s “Open to the Universe” aspect to be sucked into the AW’s Sight, which I essentially borrowed from your description above. Beyond that I didn’t find any good compels, but that’s probably because I was trying to put everything together too quickly, without understanding the characters well enough.

    It took a while for folks to get the hang of finding good, flavorful aspect invocations and tags, but we go there by the end of the story. The basement’s “Horrific Hams Hanging from Hooks” was used to good effect for stealth and combat invokes. Aspects are difficult to get ones head around at first, and I still feel shaky on how to use them in certain cases. While running this session created a lot of questions that were, in the moment at least, unanswered, it did a really good job of highlighting the things everybody needed to understand better. The subtle differences between assessments and declarations got a good workout (“One ghoul has been routed. Does the remaining ghoul now appear shaken/demoralized?”), and the practical effects of temporary aspects (“My Leaf Blower rote evocations applies the temporary aspect ‘Knocked Down’ to the ghoul. Does that mean the ghoul is knocked down until the tag is removed by a maneuver? Or is it just that we can use this to say that the lingering effects of being rattled by being knocked down allow us to invoke for advantage?” ), were good examples of that.

    Having the pre-gens that you shared gave me the confidence that each of the characters was crafted in such a way as to be useful, and that let me focus on trying to get the game flow down. Thank again for sharing this with us!

    -Scott

  10. Rick Neal says:

    Thanks for the report! I’m glad you found the characters useful.

    You are absolutely right about including the guest-starring phases for one-shots: they take a little time, but they are invaluable for getting player buy-in, as well as for giving players new to the system a little bit of insight into Aspects.

    And Aspects are one of the more important, and more slippery, concepts in the game, especially when it comes to compels. I’m still working on getting the proper flow of Fate Points going out and coming in to generate the kind of action and excitement I want in the game, so don’t sweat it. It will come with time – or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself. 😉

    Sounds like your group had fun with the session, and that’s the key thing to take away from the experiment.

  11. Phil says:

    Thanks for all the great info on the Dresden RPG it is really helpful. I have a question about the character sheets you used. I am looking for character sheets pretty much exactly like the demo’s you provided. I have found a few other similar PDF’s with only the character sheet portion setup to allow people to fill out and save them but the extra blank pages for notes would be ideal. So my question is do you have a character sheet similar to your demo’s that are blank and would allow you to edit all the pages and save the file if I only have Adobe Reader?

  12. Rick Neal says:

    Phil, glad you’re finding these posts useful.

    I used these character sheets for the characters, created the pages of notes in Word, and then combined it into a .pdf with the full version of Adobe. I don’t have a .pdf fillable version of the cheat sheet, I’m afraid.

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